According to the FTC, every year tens of thousands of inventors try to develop and commercially market their ideas. Few inventors have products that become runaway business successes, but with dreams of making it big, many turn to invention promotion firms for help. These companies promote their services through a variety of media outlets but, though some are reputable, fraudulent promoters abound.
Numerous complaints are filed against invention promotion firms each year for fraudulent business practices. Under the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, inventors can file complaints with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). Complaints from inventors and responses by promotion firms may be posted in the Inventor Resources complaint forum on its Website.
In this forum, Davison and Associates (now renamed Davison Design and Development), a firm based in Pittsburgh, received the greatest number of complaints from October 2003 to September 2006. “We receive many complaints from former clients who choose not to go through our compliance and quality control department after they have a problem with the service, [but] instead opt to voice their opinions through the Internet,” says Ben Bowser, the firm’s director of corporate communications. “We do our best to contact these individuals and attempt to remedy any problems.”
Sounded Too Good to Be True
At some point, it crosses everyone’s mind — that million — dollar idea that would be great to turn into a must — have product. Two years ago, Maretta Johnson believed she’d come up with such an idea while driving her family nearly four hours from their home in Canton, Georgia, to visit her mother.
She came up with a diaper bag with a twist — the Total Travel Bag has a built — in cooler and bottle warmer. Her next step was to find a company that would help launch and commercially market the invention.
Johnson, 39, contacted InventHelp, a promotion firm based in Pittsburgh, and scheduled an appointment at their Atlanta office. She became suspicious when the representative didn’t offer to sign a confidentiality agreement that would protect her nonpatented idea. Johnson insisted on having the document signed before sharing her concept.
The discussion became tense when the rep told Johnson that she needed a $900 deposit and an investment of about $10,000 to begin the process of developing and marketing the prototype. “When I heard those figures, I felt I couldn’t do it,” says Johnson. “That’s when [the rep] started talking about making smaller payments, in a plan. That was a red flag for me because I knew they were only trying to make a sale.”
Johnson walked away from the meeting, frustrated by the possibility that her invention would never make it to the marketplace. “I immediately went home and let InventHelp know that I was no longer interested in their services,” says Johnson. She asked them, in writing, to retain the nondisclosure agreement.
Nicole M. Hait, manager of corporate communications at InventHelp, defended the firm’s practices. “InventHelp’s policy is to have an inventor sign a nondisclosure agreement before we view the invention. If an inventor was