Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it.
For me, the “a-ha!” moment often hits in the dead of night, or when I’m in the middle of a meeting or driving. We Americans are a nation of problem-solvers, and it’s no wonder that we’ve come up with some of the world’s best ideas. The list of world-changing inventions dreamed up by Americans is astounding.
Sometimes, what you or I think of as a revolutionary idea has already been tried; other times they’re not practical, not marketable or are hamstrung by red tape and competition. But every once in a while, somebody comes up with something amazing and makes millions. It’s this quest for fame and fortune that drives many people to take their idea for a “better mousetrap” and go for it.
TV shows such as “Shark Tank” have propelled many inventors to riches and glory, as celebrity investors decide whether the ideas are worth a shot. An industry has even sprung up around the potential profit in new inventions, promising to help get your idea patented, protected and marketed.
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But, as some budding Edisons have discovered, many “invention promotion” companies are nothing but scams, designed to hook the hopeful into spending big bucks with dreams of getting their products to market.
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Back in March, the Federal Trade Commission busted a Miami Beach, Florida-based company called World Patent Marketing, which had allegedly promised would-be inventors it could help its clients successfully develop and market their products. Instead, the FTC told a federal court, all but a few consumers found themselves shelling out big bucks with nothing to show for it. In all, the FTC’s complaint alleges, the scheme bilked consumers out of more than $10 million. The complaint also accused parent company Desa Industries and its CEO Scott Cooper of involvement in the scheme.
The company is accused of using a variety of tactics to lure new customers and reassure existing ones, such as made-up “success stories” about people the company had helped. Adding insult to injury, some customers claimed that when they tried to complain or wrote negative online reviews, the company used intimidating tactics to shut them down, including threatening them with lawsuits.
One potential inventor told the Broward County, Florida, Sun-Sentinel that he had given $300,000 to the company to promote his idea for a net device that could be attached to a cellphone case to hold keys and other small items, only to come up empty-handed.
For its part, Cooper’s legal team has noted in court filings that the invention-promotion business is risky, and that fact is made clear on its website and promotional materials as a warning to potential clients.
If you do come up with an extraordinary idea, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office advises that you proceed carefully. The agency has a brochure at https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ScamPrevent.pdf that lists some of the warning signs of an invention-promotion scam, and notes that the law requires invention promotion companies must disclose the following information:
- The total number of inventions they’ve evaluated in the past five years and the number of those that received positive and negative evaluations.
- The total number of customers with whom they’ve contracted for actual invention-promotion services.
- The total number of customers who have received a net profit after working with the firm as a direct result of that relationship, as well as the total number of customers receiving licensing agreements as a result of the company’s work.
- The names and addresses of all companies associated with the company.
If you want to find out more, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0184-invention-promotion-firms, as well as http://ipwatchdog.com.
Contact Bill Moak at firstname.lastname@example.org.