In all, the Harts spent nearly $13,000 to patent, research and market the idea. But weeks later, Sherrie Hart, while searching online, found a product similar to theirs was already for sale in the United States.
The Harts were stunned that they had spent all that money on a concept that already was in use. Experiences like this are one reason why inventor Doug Hall, who is a judge on the ABC show "American Inventor," advises people to steer clear of invention promotion companies.Hall said inventor companies "don't tell you the truth.""One thing you don't do -- you don't call an 800 number that you hear on TV or on the radio and hope that a miracle's going to occur," Hall said.Hall said about .01 percent of people who use such companies ever get anything licensed, and fewer people ever make more money than they paid.
A woman who used to work for an invention promotion company, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such businesses lure people by telling them what they want to hear."We made many false promises -- many false promises," the woman said. "We were thriving on their wants."
One of the companies that receives the most customer complaints, Sanchez reported, is PTI.PTI's president and CEO, Julian Gumpel, was sued in 1997 by the Federal Trade Commission, which accused him of fraud. Gumpel never admitted to doing anything wrong, but as part of the lawsuit settlement, he promised never to make false statements to inventors.
Regarding the Harts, PTI said that it never promised the couple that they would make any money.In a letter, PTI said that the Harts were told "no one can promise or guarantee that an individual invention will be successful." PTI also said that it fulfilled its end of the deal.Gumpel told Call 6 that he has lived up to the promise he made in the settlement with the FTC, and that his company recently made some changes that will help give inventors a better picture of what is already out there.
A number of experts say that people who have an invention should hire a reputable patent attorney.People who wish to use an invention promotion company should be aware of the Inventors Protection Act, which requires such businesses to reveal things like how many of their clients made money.PTI claims that it is exempt from the act, saying it is a patent assistance firm and not an invention promotion company.As for Robert Hart, he feels that he has been had."It's like we've been robbed," he said.