Companies Allegedly Scam Aspiring Inventors

ByABC News via logo
May 19, 2006, 8:59 AM

May 19, 2006 — -- The government approved approximately 167,000 patents last year. But some inventors missed out on opportunities after falling victim to some original alleged scams.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office estimates there are about 100 invention promotion companies. Some legitimately help inventors develop and market their products but others just rip them off in inventive ways. The alleged scam artists know just what buttons to push, telling people their ideas can be big money makers and urging them to send thousands of dollars as soon as possible to help develop their products.

Michelle Padula, a resident of upstate New York, saw a TV commercial for Inventor's Helpline, a Web site tied to a private business called the Patent and Trademark Institute of America. Padula thought PTI could help her develop her long-held vision, a disposable toilet bowl brush.

"It was time for a disposable toilet bowl brush," Padula said.

Padula paid for PTI's assessment of the brush. A salesman, she said, told her she had a real moneymaker, that she could earn $250,000 every four months in royalties. So Padula sent PTI more than $5,000.

"I feel as though I just threw away $5,000," she said.

"Good Morning America" obtained an audiotape of a phone call between an aspiring inventor and PTI sales person.

"This is the kind of product that could make half a million a year," the PTI salesperson said. "What will it take to put together the, uh, $15,000?"

When the inventor said it would take three or four days to come up with the money, the salesperson replied, "Three or four days? Do it today."

Bob Hutchinson fell for the hard sell. He had an idea for a board game about managing credit card debt. He called PTI for help and then sent them more than $11,000.

"After I paid my money, I heard nothing from them," Hutchinson said. "Absolutely nothing."

The U.S. patent office, which won't comment on PTI, said overall invention promotion scams are a big problem.