Anyone who regularly or even occasionally watches late night television has seen the advertisements for patent invention services. These services usually advertise an ability to help an inventor both protect and promote his or her invention. There may, indeed, be responsible organizations out there that advertise honestly and help inventors get their products to market. However, in recent years the field of invention promotion services has been tarnished by more than a few bad apples.
In our experience, we have seen patent searches provided by these services that indicated that an inventor’s idea was patentable but did not distinguish between design patent coverage and utility patent coverage. Design patents protect the way an item looks, not its functioning. Utility patents protect the idea/functioning of the invention. This is a crucial distinction that may govern the marketability of the invention, but not made clear by the invention promotion service. In most cases, whether they know it or not, inventors think of utility patent coverage when deciding to follow their dream to get a patent for their invention.
Despite the glossy wrappings and bound volumes provided by some invention services, historically the services have not succeeded in securing significant returns to inventors. The situation prompted Congress to direct the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) (under 35 U.S.C. 297) to keep a record of complaints about invention promotion services. Complaints and more information can be found at: the USPTO
In addition the Federal Trade Commission, under “Project Mousetrap,” successfully initiated lawsuits against some invention promoters for deceptive and fraudulent practices resulting in fines of millions of dollars. Additional consumer protection information regarding patent invention promoters can be found at the FTC site. Reputable patent attorneys discuss the prospective economic value of obtaining patent protection with the client so that the client may judge whether the projected patenting expense is reasonable based on the expected value. Inventors should always ask such questions of their attorneys and others who promote their inventions.
— Laurence Weinberger, Esq.