The "Picture Claim" - A new Invention Broker Scam

Brown and Michaels thanks Robert Platt Bell, Esq., for permission to use this excellent review of the techniques of Invention Marketing Companies. It was originally posted to the "alt.inventors" USENET newsgroup in 1996.

I've had calls from a couple of inventors on yet another Invention Broker company. It seems that these guys never quit - just like the Energizer Bunny! The business is so lucrative, that new ones are springing up all the time. The competition has forced prices down somewhat. Now instead of being ripped-off for $50,000, you just get ripped off for $6,000 to $10,000.

In the past, Invention brokers have tried a number of patent-related schemes:

1. The "patent papers": Invention Broker promises to get "patent documents" on file at the PTO. Unfortunately, the "patent documents" are a Disclosure Document - a $10 service the PTO has to date-stamp your document as proof of conception date.

There are no patent rights for such a document, but the Invention Brokers lead you to believe that you do have patent rights. After they have mass-mailed your slickly drafted invention promotion to a list of Fortune 500 companies, they tell you no one was interested, but thanks, we'll keep the $20,000.

Surprise! Since a year has passed, your idea is now public domain.

2. The Design Patent Scam: Every search report (boilerplate) ends with the phrase "We believe that your invention is eligible for Design Patent Protection." The inventor is not told what a Design Patent is, or how it differs from a Utility Patent.

A Design Patent covers only the ornamental outward appearance of an object, and thus is worthless to protect a mechanism, electrical circuit, or chemical composition. Some Brokers use this technique with a "Patent or your money back" claim, as Design Patents are almost always issued (low standard of novelty, aided by embellishment of the design by the draftsman).

Again, the mass-mailing is unsuccessful, and after a year, your invention is in the public domain. Take your money, void your rights, crush your dreams!

Nice folks.

3. The new scam is the "picture claim". It works like this: A Utility Patent is filed, but with a few very, very long claims. The claims include very specific and silly limitations which have nothing to do with the overall concept of the invention. In once case I reviewed, the attorney argues the point of novelty was the carrying handle for the device (a simple bicycle grip) and ignored the functional aspects of the invention.

Such "picture claims" are readily granted by the Examiners, as they are so narrow in scope as to be distinguishable over all prior art. You get your patent, all right, but it is pretty worthless!

Again, your invention materials are mass-mailed, and your $10,000 is gone (prices are at least going down).

At least you have two years from the date of issue to file a broadening re-issue application if you'd like (of course at your additional expense!) presuming the attorney did an even half-way decent job of disclosing your invention.


1. Do not use an invention broker at all. Period. Even the legitimate ones are of little help. Promoting your invention is hard work which you must do. You can't simply 'hand it off' to someone else and expect results. 

2. Run, do not walk, away from anyone who wants large amounts of money up front. Once you have paid, it is next to impossible to get your money back. It would cost at least $20,000 to sue them, and even if you won, you'd have to collect. Guess what? These guys don't keep a lot of money lying around.

3. Avoid any brokerage who tries to control your communications with your attorney. This is illegal and unethical in most states.

4. READ THE MATERIALS THEY PROVIDE YOU CAREFULLY! Is a lot of it boilerplate? (in other words, could the same language be used for another client?). A search report recently I reviewed for a client stated:

"The (reference name) reference discloses an apparatus which may be similar to your invention. This reference is relevant to the extent that it discloses some features which appear similar to your (invention name). However, we feel that there are some features of your invention which are distinguishable over the (reference name) reference."

That is NOT a search report. That is B.S.! The search report should set forth which features they think are distinguishable, and discuss the reference in at least some specific detail. Note that you should get complete copies of all references as well.


1. SPREAD THE WORD. Ignorance is the best ally of the Invention Broker. Invention Broker scams take a big dive every time "60 Minutes" or "20/20" does an expose on TV. That's why some invention brokers try to sue the networks! If you have a friend who is thinking of calling a 1-800 Invention Broker, tell him to be careful!

2. WRITE A LETTER TO THE EDITOR. Magazines such as Popular MechanicsPopular ScienceUSA Today, and others, routinely carry advertisements from various Inventor Brokers. Most magazines do not "check out" their advertisers to see whether they are legitimate or not. Write a note to the editor of your favorite periodical and ask them if this is how they value their subscribers.

Invention Brokers can't survive without advertising! I know of at least one instance where this technique has been successful. Mainstream publications give the aura of legitimacy to fraudulent Invention Brokers, and thus, if this avenue is cut off, it will be much harder for them to succeed in their scams. Some have so much money now they advertise on TV and Radio!

3. DON'T BE ASHAMED. If you have been ripped off by an Invention Broker, speak up! Call the FTC! Call your Attorney General! File a complaint! No, you won't get your money back, but you might help someone else avoid the trap you fell into. The good news is that the FTC is taking an active role in busting fraudulent Invention Brokers - nailing one right here in Virginia recently. In addition, legislation was passed in 19999 to grant the PTO broader powers to investigate and prosecute scam artists. There is hope!

© 1996 Robert Platt Bell, Esq. - reprinted by permission


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Last updated: Tue, 13 Oct 2020