So you have an idea for a product and are not quite sure how to proceed. There are so many firms advertising help for inventors, but you don't know who to believe or how to verify their claims.
If you choose to go with a new products marketer or "inventor assistance" firm, be very, very wary. There are some companies that will work to get your product commercialized, there are many who will just take your money.
The best thing to do is get a list of references from a company and talk to those references. If a company refuses to provide this information (usually they claim reason of confidentiality) you can pretty much bet it is because they do not have any clients who can say anything good about them.
Also, check with your State's attorney general's office, department of consumer affairs. See if they have anything on the company. Very often the Federal Trade Commission considers them to be engaging in unfair trade practices. Contact the FTC before writing a check to any such company. More specifically:
First, call the State Attorney General's office in both your state and the state where that company states they are headquartered. Ask if there has been any investigation or information regarding that company that they can share with you as a prospective customer. (You can get the numbers for the state offices you need by calling the National Association of State Attorney Generals at (202) 326-6047).
Second, call the Federal trade Commission's Division of Consumer Protection and ask the same question of them. (202) 326-3650.
Third, contact local inventor groups in those areas and ask if that company is known to them and what their experience of them has been.
Fourth, in your contact with the company's representative, ask a list of specific questions which include, names, addresses and phone numbers of clients such as yourself who have done business with them and whom you can contact for references. Also ask for written names and credentials of their staff and their qualifications for doing the work they are proposing to do Also request, IN WRITING, their "success rate" which is the % of clients who have made a profit of $1 or more as a result of their services.
As a result of proceeding as outlined above, you will probably have a clear indication of what your decision should be. There are reputable service providers available but most will not propose to provide every service you need to launch your product from concept to market place, and most will also not require large up front fees for their services. A good place to begin is by getting a valid evaluation done by a service that does only that and has no vested interest in the results. These services are usually associated with state universities or small business development centers and there are a few available in different regions.
1. Are they recommending DESIGN patent protection? If so, RUN, do not walk, to the door. A Design patent is worthless for a gadget-type invention.
2. Are they selecting an attorney for you or controlling access to your attorney? Again, RUN, do not walk to the door. Fraudulent firms "bundle" their services (which are worthless) with attorneys services to make it seem like you are getting great value for your money (A patent AND marketing services!). In reality, although you may spend $5000 to $10,000 or more, the bulk of this money stays with the marketing company while a pittance goes to the attorney who prepares the worthless Design Patents. This is called "fee splitting" and it is against bar rules in all 50 States.
3. Are they asking for thousands of dollars up front? Again, RUN, do not walk away.
Invention fraud is a multi-multi-million dollar a year business. One company had over 1700 Design Applications pending when it was shut down. At $10,000 apiece, that's $17 MILLION dollarsÂand this was small-time operation!
Why can't the government shut these crooks down? Simple. In America, it is not against any law to give lousy service at high prices which is what invention brokers do. Their "marketing" efforts are laughable, and the patent services marginal at best. There is no law against charging too much for this.
These firms prey upon your fears and hopes. They promise that selling an invention is easy -- it ain't! Inventing is probably the hardest thing you can do! Companies, by and large, are NOT interested in outside ideas!
IF you go ahead and give these folks $5,000 to $20,000, don't expect to see it back anytime soon -- nor can you expect any help from the Patent Bar, the Patent Office, the State Attorney General's Office, the Better Business Bureau, etc. etc. The amount they charge is a LOT of money, but not enough to make it worthwhile to sue them. Catch-22.
Legitimate invention promoters are few and far between.
--A legitimate invention promoter will not ask for money up front, but will take a percentage of profits ONLY.
--A legitimate invention promoter TURNS AWAY 99% of ideas submitted -- he or she is only interested in ideas that will succeed.
--A legitimate invention promoter does not advertise on radio, TV or in Popular Science, USA Today, etc. etc. These are advertising venues aimed at a large response audience-- the type of audience crooks want to get at.
Be a knowledgeable consumer, protect your interests and your investment.