Q: I have a great idea for a new product. Should I get a patent?
A: Not necessarily. Very few inventions ever make it to the marketplace, and although getting a patent can provide valuable protection for a successful invention, it does not increase your chances for commercial success.
Q: I saw a great ad about a company that promotes new inventions. What should I know before hiring this company to help me?
A: Numerous television, radio, Internet, newspaper and magazine ads offer free information to inventors about how to patent and market their inventions. Generally, these ads come from invention promotion companies.
Before hiring an invention promotion company, make sure it is a reputable firm. Be wary of the following claims, offers and demands:
• claims of special connections to manufacturers that are interested in your ideas, since such “contacts” may be imposters posing as legitimate manufacturers;
• the offer of market research or an initial “review” of your invention, which may involve substantial fees for a glowing, but fraudulent report on the merit or market potential of the invention;
• the offer of a contract in exchange for helping you market or license the invention to manufactures;
• demands for advance fees.
Q: How can I protect myself against unscrupulous firms?
A: The American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 gives you certain rights regarding invention promoters. Before offering you a contract, the promoter must disclose in writing the following information about its business during the last five years:
• how many inventions it has evaluated;
• how many positive and negative reviews the promoter gave these inventions;
• how many customers received a net profit from the promoter’s services; and
• how many customers have succeeded in licensing their inventions as a result of the promoter’s service.
This information is designed to help protect the inventor and to aid those assistance companies that do, in fact, provide valuable services to inventors.
Q: What else can I do?
A: Ask the promoter or firm for names of previous clients so you can decide who to call for references, but beware of imposters. Contact the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to determine if any complaints have been registered against the promoter. However, many unscrupulous firms change their names after the public is made aware of their activities, so exercise caution when dealing with any unknown promoter.
Q: Does the USPTO investigate complaints about these unscrupulous promoters?
A: No. The United States Patent and Trademark Office does not investigate complaints or participate in any legal proceedings against invention promoters, but the USPTO will:
• accept complaints filed against invention promoters or firms;
• forward those complaints to the invention promoter or firm; and
• make the complaints and responses publicly available.
For more information on how to make a complaint, go to www.uspto.gov
Q: Where can I find inventor resources and patent assistance?
The USPTO offers information on patents and trademarks (call 1-800-PTO-9199 or visit www.uspto.gov
). Other good free sources of information include the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov
) and the National Congress of Inventors Organizations (www.inventionconvention.com/ncio
). You can also get information about local support groups for inventors through the United Inventors Association (www.uiausa.org
In addition, you can contact a law firm that specializes in intellectual property matters. Most patent attorneys will provide an initial consultation for a small fee, and sometimes for free. If you do not know of an intellectual property attorney, ask your personal attorney for a referral or contact your local bar association for a listing of local patent attorneys. A skilled patent attorney can assist you in obtaining the most legal protections available under the law, and can offer advice on invention development.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Brice Recker, a Columbus attorney associated with Okuley Smith LLC, and John Okuley, PhD, a registered patent attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and managing partner of Okuley Smith LLC.