Patents: Don't go broke with brokers

2019-03-01 08:19:00

By BARRY FOX Inventors who are trying to sell a patented idea can now seek advice from the Federal Trade Commission in the US on how to avoid being ripped off by patent broking and promotion agencies. Patent agents and attorneys are skilled at steering patent applications through government patent offices, but they can seldom help inventors earn money from their patents. This drives inventors into the arms of brokers, who promise to try and sell their patents to industry. Although many brokers are based in the US, they advertise internationally. Fees are high, typically several hundred dollars for a basic advice pack and several thousand dollars to offer the idea to companies who are supposedly likely to pay a royalty. One British inventor recently paid more than £2000 for a broker in the US to find a buyer for a new kind of low-noise internal combustion engine, which Rolls-Royce had suggested had potential. The inventor had to sign away sole marketing rights to the broker for two years but earned nothing. He wonders if the broker ever offered the patent to anyone. Patent agents and their British professional body, the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents, dare not warn inventors off brokers by name for fear of being sued. But the FTC has received so many complaints about US-based brokers that it has started to pursue any that misrepresent their services. The FTC has already got one firm in Pennsylvania to pay $1.2 million over two years into a fund for aggrieved clients. The FTC wants brokers to give customers a much clearer picture of what they get for their money. To help inventors it has published a factsheet with tips on evaluating firms that promote inventions. Single copies are available free from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20580,