How to Avoid Patent Scams and Fake Invention Promotion Firms:
You have no doubt heard radio commercials or seen television advertisements for companies claiming to assist inventors in promoting their invention. The world wide web is saturated with advertisements and web sites which promote one or another invention promotion outfit. Most of these invention promotion organizations are located in the United States; however, many of them have “branch” offices here in Canada. What are these organizations and what is it that they do (or rather claim to do) on behalf of inventors? In this article, I'll try to explain what these organizations are, how they work and why they are unlikely to meet your needs. If you are interested in marketing your invention, I suggest you do it yourself rather than turn to any of these invention promotion organizations. You can start by taking a look at our page on marketing your invention.
Many Invention Promotion Operations are Misleading
Having been practicing in the area of patent law for nearly 20 years now, I can tell you that I have never come across an invention promotion organization that I would ever refer a client to. If I knew of such an organization, I would be eager to refer them clients, since marketing one’s invention is a key component to any client’s success. I, like most lawyers, want successful clients - successful clients give lawyers a lot of work, and they are much more likely to pay their bills. Therefore, I have a vested interest in finding credible invention promotion businesses. Despite this vested interest, I have not found a single such organization that I would ever feel comfortable sending a client to. Why? Because I have never come across such an organization that I was convinced provided the client with any meaningful value for their investment.
When I first started my career as a patent lawyer/agent, I came across several clients who had each invested literally thousands of dollars in one particular invention promotion company. What they usually got for their money was a “preliminary patent search” and/or “marketability report” of questionable value and a nice bound book with lots of colourful graphs illustrating how much money the inventor could make by marketing their invention through the company. I must admit I was impressed the first time I saw the nicely bound document. I was less impressed when I saw substantially the same document for the third or forth time. I began to question the objectivity of an organization which produced “marketability reports” which consistently painted a strikingly similar portrait of success. Indeed, after practicing for a few years it became apparent to me that it was all but impossible to predict which products would succeed in the marketplace and which would fail. In fact, if it was possible for a marketing prognosticator to accurately separate “winning” products from “losing” products, then should not that prognosticator be working on Bay street (or Wall street) picking winning stocks from losing stocks? Why would such a person earn a relatively meager living by charging a few thousand dollars for his/her services when they could easily earn millions managing a large stock portfolio? Hint: they would not because they do not exist. So how can an invention promotion organization know that your product will succeed in the marketplace? They can not. Nobody can. Who could have predicted that the WALKMAN would have been such a success? How about the Pet Rock, the CHIA PET, the IPOD, Youtube.com, ebay, or even google? Nobody could have predicted their success, and nobody did except for those relatively few people who were smart enough (or lucky enough) to invest early.
Therefore, the first thing to note about any invention promotion organization is this - THEY CAN NOT PICK WINNERS FROM LOSERS ANY BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE.
Invention Scams often Claim to Have "lists of companies" to submit ideas to
OK, so what can these invention promotion organizations do for you? Some of them claim to have lists of companies that are looking for products to market. Hmm, I wonder. How exactly do you compose a list of companies that are “looking for products to market”? Perhaps you would start by purchasing a list of manufacturing companies from a directory supply company like Scott’s Directories (www.scottsdirectories.com). For anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a little over a thousand dollars or so (the price varies from directory company to directory company) you can purchase a searchable electronic database list of tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of manufacturing companies in Canada, the United States and elsewhere. That list will include detailed information about each of the companies in the list, including such things as the products/services they supply as well as the names, phone numbers and address of the executives who run the companies. In short, that list would contain all the contact information you need to get in contact with a company which might be interested in marketing your invention. But how do you filter that list? Well, how would an invention promotion company filter that list - they would call them. They would review the list to find the companies which manufacture or supply the product or service closest to your invention and BINGO - they have a list of companies that might want your invention. It’s not rocket science.
Invention Promotion and Patent Scams Often Use "Trade Shows"
Some promotion companies claim to display your product in special invention promotion trade shows. Big deal. I have been to a few “invention” trade shows. I have even gone so far as to have a booth in such a show. It was hardly worth the effort. Exactly what would you expect to find in an invention promotion trade show...let me guess...inventors hoping to sell their ideas? Of course - lots and lots of inventors. Now tell me, what are you actually looking for? Companies/investors who want to purchase or invest in your product. Now why would those people go to such a trade show? If they are investors (i.e. they have lots of money and want to invest it), they don’t have to go anywhere - people come to them. And if you’re a company and might be interested in taking on a new product, why would you (the very busy president of a manufacturing company) go to a trade show where a vast majority of the people with booths at the show are selling inventions you are not capable of exploiting. Well, I have worked with lots of CEO’s from lots of different companies - they all go to trade shows, but never to “invention trade shows”. They go to industry specific trade shows. The plastics companies go to plastics trade shows. The toy distributors go to toy trade shows. And so on. By all means get your invention into a trade show - but get it in the right one. If it’s a new toy - get it into a toy trade show. If it’s a new plumbing fixture - find the right trade show for that. You are far more likely to find interested parties in a trade show filled with people in the same industry then in a trade show filled with desperate inventors hoping that Mr. Angel investor is going to spot their product.
Invention Scam - Submitting the Invention to Industry
Finally, some invention promotion organizations claim to be able to submit your invention to “contacts in industry”. To this I say, BIG DEAL. I have already told you how to find the contacts, now, how do you submit your idea to those contacts? It’s called the mailbox. You write up your idea in a synopsis or summary (a page or two), include plenty of nice colour photos, put it all in a nice folding portfolio and include your contact information. Then you put it in an envelope, address it to who you think is the right person (the president and/or CEO sounds good to me), and send it in the mail. After a few weeks (months) you follow up. If they are interested, then they will get back to you, if not, then they won’t. NOTE: It’s a good idea to protect your invention by filing a patent application before disclosing your invention to anyone.
So, now you know why I do not refer clients to invention promotion companies - I do not think they provide much value. That is not to say that all invention promotion people are not worth the fees they charge - I have just never met one after 20 years of trying. I should say that there are one group of invention promotion people who are worth every penny they are paid - the "marketing people". Guess what - they are usually in-house (i.e. employed by the companies whose products they are trying to promote).
Marketing your invention is possible. Indeed, it’s absolutely necessary and I encourage you all to do it. However, do not have any illusions about the process. The fact is nobody is going to sell your invention for you. There are plenty of “promoters” who would be very happy to charge you several thousand dollars to try to sell your invention for you. If you hire them, all I can say to you is good luck. In the twenty years or so that I have been doing this, I have never heard of anyone making a dime using an invention promoter. I have come across several dozen people who have spend literally thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it but a nicely bound book with pretty pictures in it.
If you are interested in marketing your invention, take a look at our page on marketing your invention.