If you’re a would-be inventor, you’ve probably seen ads on TV promising patent help and offering to take your invention and market it to a mainstream audience — making you fabulously wealthy along the way.
When you’ve got an idea for a new product, you’ve got to tread carefully in the world of patent help. That’s because many companies out there are happy to take your money with the promise of doing patent research for you, helping you through the patent process and bringing your idea to market.
Yet, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. There is one commonality among the bad guys, though: Most ripoff invention services will use a three-step program to take your money.
- First, they offer a free evaluation of your product through an 800 telephone number. Once you "pass" that initial screening then you're on to the next stage.
- The second step is them asking you for $500 to $1,000 or so to fund "research" into a potential patent — i.e. to see if your idea has already been patented by someone else.
- Finally, they'll request another $5,000 or more for more extensive "market research" to determine the marketability of your idea.
“Your best bet is to find an invention broker to propose your idea to a company,” Clark says. “Non-profit inventors clubs, which can be found in many cities, also are excellent for sharing ideas and providing encouragement.”
He also advises hopeful inventors to look at their local library for books that can offer legitimate advice on how to bring inventions to market.
A few of the titles Clark likes for this purpose are two by Richard Levy — Inventing and Patenting Sourcebook and The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Cashing In on Your Inventions — and one by David Pressman called Patent It Yourself.
Finally, Clark advises that before you approach anyone to help you patent your idea, be sure to follow the “if you build it, they will come” approach to invention.
“It’s important to create a working prototype of your idea, because companies won’t buy ideas from sketches,” he notes.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a great resource for complete information on patents and the patent process. But they also have a list of 10 red flags you should be on the lookout for when you're seeking patent help:
- Beware of ads promising to send you a free inventor's kit for initial review of your invention.
- Beware of paying for a so-called "market evaluation."
- Beware of a company that won't respond to your questions in writing with an official signature.
- Beware of promises to do a patent search without offering a clear assessment of the viability of your invention.
- Beware of guarantees that you'll get a patent or your money back.
- Beware of being steered toward applying for a design patent, which only covers the way your invention looks, not how it functions.
- Beware of companies you can't reach by phone or have to leave multiple messages in order to talk with anyone.
- Beware of guarantees of commercial success.
- Beware of companies that won't provide a list of previous clients for you to speak with.
- Beware of signing any form or agreement without having it reviewed by your own attorney.
According to the USPTO, any legitimate invention promoter is also required by law to be forthcoming with the following info from the last five years of doing business:
- Number of inventions evaluated
- Number of customers who have contacted the firm
- Number of customers who realized a net financial profit from their invention
- Number of customers who received license agreements for their inventions
- Names and addresses of all companies the promoter or its agents have been affiliated with for the past 10 years
This is an industry that’s fraught with danger, so be careful out there.
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