While invention promoters and IP registration firms claim to assist present and future IP holders, some have been found to offer little or nothing of value in exchange for the thousands of dollars paid to them. Here are ways to investigate these firms and learn about your rights to avoid being treated unfairly.

Invention Promoters
There are several resources available to help investigate and weed out unscrupulous invention promoters. The Federal Trade Commission offers a Consumer Alert listing the “sweet-sounding promises” of promoters that may do little or nothing in return for the fees they collect. Complaints regarding invention promoters can be filed with the FTC.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a Scam Prevention webpage as a public forum for the publication of complaints concerning invention promoters. The USPTO does not investigate or participate in any legal proceedings, but will forward any complaints to the invention promoter and will publish any response on the USPTO public web forum.

Under the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, invention promoters are required by law to describe their business practices and disclose all invention promotion companies they have been affiliated with over the last 10 years before entering into a promotion contract with a customer.

IP Registration Firms
IP registration firms generate a list of IP applicants and owners from public notifications of filings for trademarks, domain names, and patent applications. These firms then contact the applicants and owners with letters or e-mails bearing official-looking logos and titles seeking fees to “register” the IP property in the registration service’s private database. The firms do not explain the benefits of such a “registration” and often none exist, that is customers may not gain any legal rights or advantages as a result.

The letters from the IP registration firms identifies the IP property using details obtained from public notifications in a manner intended to give the correspondence an air of propriety. The letters often bear a name and header that are confusingly similar to those of official agencies. Thus, the documents are particularly provocative because it appears to have been issued by a legitimate, official organization, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This appearance may coax the recipient to pay the fee or to forward the letter within a corporate entity for payment. WIPO addresses this issue on its website – Warning: Request for Payment of Fees – and includes links to examples of over 30 letters from IP registration firms. WIPO advises that these organizations have no connection to WIPO, and these organizations are unrelated to the processing of patent applications filed under the international Patent Cooperation Treaty. Other national IP offices that post similar warnings on their websites about unsolicited mail from IP registration services include the Australian, Austrian, Swiss, German, European, Great Britain, Israel, and Japanese patent offices.

All requests to register your IP assets, especially those including demands for fees, should be carefully reviewed to evaluate whether the solicitation is valid. One way is to visit the WIPO website and consult its listing of offenders and sample correspondence. Before entering into a contract with an invention promoter/ promotion firm, visit the USPTO and FTC inventor fraud prevention websites identified above.