Protecting Yourself Against Scams and Crooks

Do your homework to avoid making a bad business decision.

It's a common story, yet it breaks my heart every time someone tells me their version: An aspiring inventor sends his or her product to an invention promotion company, pays a large fee (often their entire savings) and gets nothing in return. Not only have they been embarrassed, but they've also been depleted of the money they could've used to further develop their product.

Often these "firms" will charge thousands of dollars, promising to bring an inventor's product to market within a specified time period. They prey on the inventor's excitement and passion. These firms advertise on TV, radio, the internet, newspapers and in magazine classified sections. Their guarantee and promise of success is tempting.

While not every invention promotion and marketing company is fraudulent, unfortunately many good ones go underground to avoid being associated with the unethical and dishonest firms. How do they work? Be aware of a company that promises too much using these tactics:

  • They promise free information on how to patent and market your invention.
  • They claim to have special agreements with manufacturers looking to license new products or even claim to represent these manufacturers.
  • They require "a small initial investment" to conduct a "feasibility" or "marketability" study and patent search.
  • They present a flashy marketing plan that is professionally bound, with a completed patent search and conclusion that claims the enormous potential and success for your invention.
  • They guarantee a successful patent--or your money back. (Remember, most patented inventions never get to market anyway.)
  • They use "shills"--people paid to give good references and testimonials about your product.
  • At last they need another investment to get your product to market. Many have fallen for the adage "it takes money to make money."
  • Once you pay, they avoid your calls and rarely return them.

These firms have become so damaging and pervasive that the Federal Trade Commission issued a statement warning against them: "When it comes to determining market potential, inventors should proceed with caution as they try to avoid falling for the sweet-sounding promises of a fraudulent promotion firm." For more information, download " FTC Facts for Consumers: Invention Promotion Firms " or call (877) FTC-HELP.

So how can you separate the good from the fraudulent when it comes to getting help promoting your idea? Here are eight important tips to keep in mind when considering an invention promotion company:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is . Anyone who gives you extreme assurances on getting your product licensed or is a little too enthusiastic about your product is probably giving you the hard sell. Licensing is difficult and never a certainty, no matter how brilliant your idea. They know you believe in your idea and they capitalize on your own initial bias.

2. Treat this relationship like you would any other serious business relationship . Insist on a written proposal. Read and ask questions about the fine print and check the company's credentials. Be sure you understand what they are committing to--and not committing to--as well as what is expected of you.

3. Get references . If a company has a good track record and reputation, ask to speak to at least two other clients with whom they've worked. Then, actually speak to those clients. Note that if a company is in the business of bilking inventors, they can easily concoct fake references. Therefore, cross-check the validity of these clients. Ask them questions that you can verify, such as: What is your patent number? When was it issued? What manufacturer licensed your product? Where is your product sold?

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Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss Tamara Monosoff is the author of Your Million Dollar Dream: Regain Control & Be Your Own Boss and The Mom Inventors Handbook, Secrets of Millionaire Moms, and co-author of The One Page Business Plan for Women in Business. She is also the and CEO of Connect on Twitter: @mominventors and on Facebook:

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