Edited by Douglas Harbrecht
CAVEAT INVENTOR: THE FTC SAYS SCAMSTERS ABOUND
Think you've invented the better mousetrap? Beware of companies that promise to promote your invention for a large upfront fee. That's the message from the Federal Trade Commission, which on July 23 announced a crackdown, along with state law enforcers, of the invention-promotion industry.
The law-enforcement sweep, called "Project Mousetrap," is aimed at fraud committed by companies that promise fledgling inventors to perform a patent search, secure a license, find a manufacturer, and get the product to market. Such outfits charge huge upfront fees -- up to $20,000 -- but never perform the promised services, according to Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC Bureau of Competition.
"The fraudulent firms in this industry claim, after a purportedly professional evaluation, that virtually every new idea or product crossing their desks is patentable and that it has tremendous market potential," Bernstein says. That kind of claim is deceptive, she says, noting that only 1% of new-product concepts succeed in the marketplace.
Bernstein says the federal government recently filed civil cases against five companies, charging that they bilked inventors of more than $90 million. State attorneys general in Pennsylvania and Florida filed two other separate cases.
The FTC says reputable firms exist that perform invention-related work. But it warns inventors to avoid any that insist on large upfront fees or that urge potential clients to patent an idea quickly before someone else does. The agency also advises that you ask the company for the number of clients who made more money from their inventions than they paid in services. It also suggests that prospective clients ask the for names and phone numbers of recent clients.
By Susan Garland in Washington
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