Patent & Trademark Scams
Don’t Fall for Patent Scams and “Trademark Monitoring” Scams.
If you are an inventor, and especially if you are an individual new to the process, you need to be extremely careful of scams that are rampant in this country. There are a variety of so-called invention promotion firms that prey on inventors and small businesses. The typical patent promotion firm promises some variety of one-stop shopping that helps you protect and license your invention to companies who will allegedly pay you royalties.
Scam tactics range considerably, but common tactics involve initially misleading or exaggerated patentability evaluations. A company will provide a “patent search” that finds much promise in the invention, and then suggest easy money and lucrative licensing deals. The catch is usually the up-front fees that can lead nowhere. Really, they want your credit card information. In exchange, the victims frequently receive glossy binders and “market studies” that are graphically impressive, but substantively worthless. Or they spend thousands of dollars only to learn that they don’t even have a patent application on file.
Unfortunately, we often talk to these inventors after it is too late. Inventors can lose their money, their inventions, and have a discouraging experience. The problem is so commonplace, that the U.S. Patent Office has a form for inventors to fill out and report getting scammed. You can find it here: www.uspto.gov/web/forms/2048.pdf.
The FTC also warns consumers about these scams: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0184-invention-promotion-firms
Scam avoidance is critical. Beware of invention “kits” or half-baked “searches” that offer little evaluation of the patents located and the importance to you. If the promotion sounds too good to be true, trust your instincts.
One of the best ways to avoid scams is simply to work with registered patent attorneys at the USPTO. You can find a list of registered patent attorneys here: www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/registered-patent-attorneys-and-agents
Registered patent attorneys and agents have backgrounds in science, and are regulated by the ethics codes at the Patent Office. Many inventors are surprised that patent attorneys and agents can be more affordable than the so-called promotion companies that are actually rip-offs.
The newer trademark scams are with companies that mine the public databases at the trademark office and send trademark owners misleading communications stating that fees are due, or that rights are about to expire. The unsuspecting trademark owners will shell out good money to “maintain” rights and the money just disappears. Other scams will claim you have to pay fees to be listed on critical registries. The critical registries are just private companies that are of no importance.
The scammers are very resourceful and the publications can fool even intelligent business owners or their billing departments. So, stay vigilant. You can see examples of such scams here: www.uspto.gov/trademarks/solicitation_warnings.jsp.