Action News Investigates has learned a lawsuit accuses a Pittsburgh-based invention promotion company of running a deceptive and fraudulent scam.
The class-action lawsuit says InventHelp and its affiliates took millions of dollars from inventors, who got virtually nothing in return. The company disputes the allegations.
Court records show InventHelp has convinced thousands of people to part with thousands of dollars to market their inventions. But the lawsuit says only a handful of inventors have made money.
After she saw an InventHelp ad featuring a caveman, Sherry Porter contacted the company about her idea.
“It was a pet collar with an LED light that went all the way around,” Porter said.
When Porter met with an InventHelp official at their office in Rochester, New York, she says the response was enthusiastic.
“She told me that it was a great idea. She said to me this invention could go as far as bigger animals, cows, horses, and she said possibly even to children,” Porter said.
Porter said she was skeptical.
But according to a class-action lawsuit filed in New York, InventHelp eventually convinced her to pay $700 and then another $9,000 to market her invention.
The lawsuit says InventHelp promised to send Porter’s invention to numerous companies. But when she followed up with those companies, she said, “they would write back and say they had already seen this product, that it had been on the market for years.”
She also got a book describing her invention.
“What Sherry received for that $10,000 was a hard-bound book very generally describing her invention that probably a third-grader could have put together,” said her attorney, Julie Plitt.
Earlier this year, the lawsuit says, an official at InventHelp’s Pittsburgh headquarters contacted Porter and said a company based in New York City called Abrams Gentile Entertainment was interested in licensing her invention.
But when investigators for Sherry’s attorney went to the office of Abrams Gentile, they found it vacant — nothing but empty boxes. The company’s name not even listed.
“As it turned out this company didn’t exist. The name of the company on the contract occupied vacant New York City space and to date that company hasn’t even answered the complaint,” Plitt said.
Porter did eventually receive a $500 check from another company affiliated with InventHelp.
“We believe that this $500 was a ruse in order to suck her into spending even more money with InventHelp,” Plitt said.
In their complaint, Porter and two other inventors accuse InventHelp and affiliated companies of running a “deceptive and fraudulent invention promotion scam that has bilked thousands of aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs into paying millions of dollars to Defendants for invention promotion services that Defendants do not and never intend to provide.”
When Action News Investigates called InventHelp’s PR office for comment, the voicemail was full. An email to the PR office bounced back as undeliverable.
Eventually, company spokesperson Lark Blasi responded, calling the lawsuit allegations “empty and frivolous” and saying, “We very much stand by our efforts on behalf of all of our clients, are pleased that a third party has shown interest in this individual’s idea, and are puzzled by the various inaccuracies in the amended complaint.”
In a letter to the court, InventHelp says it plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
On its website, InventHelp says from 2015 to 2017 it signed submission agreements with 6,564 clients. But it says just 166 clients have gotten license agreements for their products, and only 49 clients — less than 1 percent — received more money than they paid InventHelp.
“In fact, all these people got was a large debt and dashed dreams,” Plitt said.
“I don’t take throwing money away lightly and that’s exactly how I feel, that I just threw that money right out the window,” Porter said.
In addition to the case filed by Porter in New York, a lawsuit making similar claims about InventHelp has been filed in Philadelphia. The company said it has not yet had a chance to review the allegations in the Philadelphia case.