Patent: Seven Ways to Keep You from the Wolves

By Gary Cogley Icon

You have an invention or an idea for an invention. The first people you may hear about - or even may contact you - are from an invention development company. They advertise on radio and TV, and in magazines that cater to the inventive mind - and even some newspapers.

Invention development companies are private and public research companies that purport to help inventors develop, patent, and promote their ideas so they can be commercially licensed or sold. While many of these organizations are legitimate, some are not.

I state my stand on the use of such companies on my website -, but you may want to go that way anyway to develop your patent or invention. If that's the case, here are seven helpful tips for you to make smart patent and invention development decisions:

Learn About the Patent Process.

When you understand the basics of how to get a patent, you will know when invention marketers are making promises they, or the patent system, can't deliver. Knowing the steps to do a patent search, and what is required, as well as knowing what happens in the patenting process can only help you in making the right decision. You will have a better idea about whether the company you are talking to knows what they are doing for you - and not just their pocketbook.

  1. Do Your Homework.

    Check the organization's references, ask for credentials, and then check them. Ask them for statistics on how many successes they have had compared to how many total clients. They are required by law to offer you this type of information. In fact, the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 gives you the following rights when dealing with invention promoters.

    Before an invention promoter can enter into a contract with you, it must disclose the following information about its business practices during the past five years:

    • How many inventions it has evaluated;
    • How many of those inventions got positive or negative evaluations;
    • Its total number of customers;
    • How many of those customers received a net profit from the promoter's services; and
    • How many of those customers have licensed their inventions due to the promoter's services?

    This information can help you determine whether the promoter has been selective in deciding which inventions it promotes, and how successful the promoter has been. Ask for names of "successful" clients, and talk to them.

    Invention promoters also must give you the names and addresses of all invention promotion companies they have been affiliated with over the past 10 years. This information can help to determine whether the company you're considering doing business with has been subject to complaints or legal action.

    You can call the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at 1-866-767-3848, and the Better Business Bureau, the consumer protection agency, and the Attorney General in your state or city, and in the state or city where the company is headquartered to check them out.

  2. Be Realistic.

    Not every invention is patentable. Know that very few ideas - even the good ones - become commercially successful. Be wary of any developer willing to promote virtually any invention. If you are presented with the phrase - "We think your idea has great market potential" - beware, and take it for what it is - in a lot of cases, just a sales pitch.

  3. Know Where Your Money Is Going.

    Ask the organization how your money will be spent. Be on guard against large up-front fees and find out exactly how the money is spent. If the company gives you something like - "Our company has evaluated your idea, and now wants to prepare a more in-depth research report. It'll be several hundred dollars" - ask them if the idea is good enough for more research why don't they foot the bill.

  4. Protect Your Rights.

    DO NOT disclose your invention to a developer over the phone (or at any time) before first having them sign a confidentiality agreement. You could forfeit valuable patent rights. A sample confidentiality agreement is available on my website.

  5. Track Your Invention's Progress.

    If you decide to use an invention development organization, deal directly with the agent or patent attorney who will be handling your patent application. A lot of these type of firms outsource the work which is not good for you.

    Many invention promotion firms also may claim to perform patent searches on your idea. Fraudulent invention promotion firms usually do patent searches that are are incomplete, conducted in the wrong category, or unaccompanied by a legal opinion on the results of the search from a registered patent attorney.

    Because unscrupulous firms promote virtually any idea or invention without regard to its patentability - they may go ahead and market an idea for which someone already has a valid, unexpired patent. In that case, you may be the one subjected to a patent infringement lawsuit - even if the promotional efforts on your invention are successful. Most probably, the way the infringement suit is attracted is through a successful product.

  6. Don't Get Discouraged!

    The patent process can be very complicated, so you will probably need professional help. There are many good patent agents and attorneys that can help you. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a nationwide register of attorneys and agents who meet the legal, scientific and technical requirements of the office.

    The first step should be a patent search done by a reputable searcher. Your patent attorney can help with this, and should review the search for a package price, depending on the complexity of the invention.

    Hang in there. It is a long and complicated process. But if your idea passes the initial search test and evaluation, there is a good chance you can receive a patent - in two or so years.

For information on registered patent attorney and agents, you may visit the USPTO's Office of Enrollment and Discipline Web site at

Gary J. Cogley, JD, after being a musician, a TV Producer/Director/Writer, and an entertainment and IP attorney, now writes about all kinds of gadgets, gizmos and inventions. He also gives tips and info on patents, and scams to watch out for. Get info at ==>

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