February 22, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
Late-night TV is packed with commercials for companies that promise to help inventors patent and market their idea or product. Having seen those ads for the past 15 years he has been a patent attorney in Bakersfield, Jim Duncan observes:
“I have seen disappointment and money — lots of money — stolen by so many of these invention promotion firms from trusting, hard-working people who came up with an idea and just wanted a better life for their families.”
“We say that necessity is the mother of all invention. Someone comes up with an idea. They discuss it with friends who comment, ‘What a great idea! I’ve never seen anything like this before. You should really get a patent on this. You could sell it to Walmart.’ If they watch late-night TV and see these ads, [that] often begins a costly walk down a dangerous path. These ads say, ‘Got an idea, send it to us and we will give you a free preliminary review.’ The freebie gets the scammers in the door, and so our victims take the bait, call the 800 number and send in their idea. Inevitably, they receive a return communication: This sounds like a great idea, we can provide a market analysis for $700-800.”
You think, “What’s that in the face of making millions?”
“They send that money and next receive a fancy leatherette booklet, packed full with non-specific material regarding how the market works, consumer demand in the United States for this kind of product — all of it easy to get online free.
“You get 3 pages reviewing your product and are told something along the lines of, ‘This is the greatest idea we have ever heard of! You have an invention which is going to make you millions!’ ”
It is at this stage where that late-night TV commercial is really going to pay off, because now, as Duncan describes, “The pressure is on and you are becoming a true believer. You start receiving these types of phone calls which reel you in further:
• We need to take this to the next step and can promote it for you.
• We attend all trade shows and have a huge network of connections.
• We have an established track record with the decision makers and will take your idea to
• We work with all of the major companies and will get you a contract with one of them.
• The price for all of this is only $10,000 and you can put it on your credit card.
“Over the years, I have had so many clients come to me who have gone along,” Duncan said. “The invention promotion firm typically has a patentability search done but providing little analysis. They frequently conclude that the invention is patentable, but usually the protection is limited to a design patent, which only protects the ornamental appearance of an item. It is the easiest to get and the least valuable, as opposed to a utility patent, which provides the greatest protection.“
“The bottom line is that they want you to spend thousands of dollars and they promise to market your invention and sell it. In California, they are required to tell you the number of their clients who have had a return on their investment — that is, those clients who have actually been able to market the invention and that it has generated income. If you can find and read the fine print, in my experience the typical number of people who have had a return on their investment is one out of 10,000!” Duncan said, shaking his head.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.