Creators, innovators and entrepreneurs — do you know the right path to take for your intellectual property (IP) protection?
If your goal is to successfully bring an idea to the marketplace, it’s likely you’ll encounter offers to help with your IP protection along the way. However, not all of these offers are legitimate. In this edition of the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Guide to Intellectual Property blog series, we’ll help you understand what resources you can trust as you navigate your IP options and bring your work to the marketplace.
What kinds of organizations should inventors avoid?
As you consider how to protect and market your work, you might find for-profit competition and invention promotion companies offering opportunities to gain funding, advice or other services for your invention. On the surface, these offers can sound appealing — but these organizations prioritize profit, not your best interests. Working with such companies can leave inventors with sizeable bills, and little else.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recommends keeping these points in mind to avoid schemes that prey on emerging inventors:
- Ads for a free inventor’s kit or a preliminary review of your invention are designed to prompt you to contact an invention promotion organization, with the intention of offering you costly services.
- If a salesperson indicates a need to complete a market evaluation of your invention, at your cost, there may be no research performed at all; the organization may simply provide you with a false positive evaluation to keep selling more services to you.
- Legitimate organizations will provide answers to your questions in writing. Refusal to do so indicates a scam.
- You may be told to write down your idea and mail to yourself — a piece of advice the USPTO says is “worthless.”
- Be wary of any organization offering to perform a patent search without providing any opinion on patentability.
To learn more of the warning signs associated with invention promotion scams, refer to this helpful list from the USPTO.
Where can inventors find legitimate help with IP protection?
While you cautiously avoid the risks of for-profit invention promotion companies, you will find that there are many legitimate resources available to you as an inventor and entrepreneur.
Much of the work that for-profit invention promotion companies offer can actually be performed on your own, and often for free. As you might have guessed, the primary place to find help on your IP journey is USPTO.gov.
The wealth of information provided here includes but is not limited to:
- Patent basics and FAQs
- An overview of the patent process
- Resources for conducting a patent search
- Trademark basics and FAQs
- An overview of the trademark process
- An explanation of copyright policy
- An explanation of trade secret policy
- Links to legal assistance and resources
- Intellectual property rights (IPR) toolkits with information on protecting your work overseas
By starting your IP research here, you’ll be on the right path to accomplishing essential tasks like determining your invention’s key differentiators, assessing your market viability and evaluating your patentability and trademark potential — all without running into costly scams.
To learn more about IP, in addition to visiting USPTO.gov, we invite you to read more of the blogs in NIHF’s “Guide to Intellectual Property” series.