Another Invention Rip Off Question

Inventor feels ripped off by Invention Company. Is there anything to be done?

S. Hemngway asks:

"I submitted an idea to an invention company in 2002. I filled out the paperwork requiring drawing and descriptions of the idea. I never made a prototype or got a patent. It was a very good idea, especially since it's being sold today. The problem is that I am not the one selling it. I think the invention company stole my idea.back in 2002. I faxed them the paperwork with the drawing and description. They called me and told me it would cost x amount of dollars to pursue the idea. I was broke back then,therefore I could not invest.that was pretty much it. Years go by and... like I say, the product is being sold. I'm wondering if there's anything I can do about this. I feel that its a lost cause since I didn't get a patent or was not able to afford that and everything else it woulda cost. The only proof I have is the drawing and description and a fax confirmation to their number. Only problem is, that fax confirmation coulda been for any kind of paperwork. I don't think there's any way to prove I faxed those specific papers. I actually first sent some paperwork in the mail to the same invention company for another idea probably a week or more before I faxed the paperwork for the idea that I feel was stolen. When they contacted me they wanted to keep talking about my first idea. I kept asking what about the other one and they said they wanted to make sure I was serious about the first one before they wanted to talk about the other idea. That's when they proceeded to tell me about all the fees for pursuing the idea.I really wanted to talk about the second idea because I felt it was better than the first. I guess they did too and that is why they stole it. Either way I could not afford to do anything. Any info you have would be great. Thanks."

Reading this sad story my first question is, "How do you know you were ripped off?"

  • Is the name of the company making and selling the product the same as the company you submitted your invention to?
  • How detailed was your submission? Did they copy specific details you disclosed or just the general idea?

It's surprisingly common for inventors to come up with similar ideas independently at the same time. The reason is that everyone is exposed to the same news stories, music, fashion and scientific research. It would be shocking to the point of unbelievable for someone to have thought of an iPhone app in 1990 since the iPhone was yet to be invented. Today iPhone apps grow like grass in springtime and the odds of people thinking of the same app at the same time are high. Before assuming someone ripped you off you should consider the possibility that a company or another inventor might have arrived at the same concept independently. We regularly see repeat ideas in the inventions submitted to Invention City, sometimes from inventors who are a literal world apart.

But what if it's clear they ripped you off because they copied a very specific slightly weird (but useful) detail? Maybe you disclosed a switch with an 83 degree back-flip and the product you see on the shelf has a switch with an 83 degree back-flip. That would be strong evidence you were ripped off. What can you do? Maybe a lot. Back in 2002 the USA was still under a first-to-invent system and assuming you were diligently pursuing your invention up to the point they commercialized it, you might still be able to claim rights as an inventor. There are many details that need to be considered and those details go beyond my pay grade - you'll need to consult with an attorney. But before you spend money doing that you should consider how much money is at stake. If the invention is racking up tens of millions of dollars in sales this could be a battle worth fighting. But if it's selling less than $1,000,000/year the costs of a lawsuit will likely exceed any money you might collect.

My guess is that you weren't ripped off at all. The invention company you describe probably made its money from the fees it charged inventors rather than successful commercialization of submitted products.

You should feel validated that you had an idea that is now a successful product. Now go on and invent something else and (shameless self promotion coming) submit it to Invention City.

- Mike

Do you have an invention question you'd like answered? Send it to Mike at

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Help with my inventions.

Around 1985 I invented plans for a clean air filter system in cars, tractors, etc. The submission company kept hee hawing me around until I asked for the info packet back. 2 years later the on board air quality was introduced in the ford cars and I feel ripped off. The plans were instructions on base configuration and available installation locations. I now have many invention ideas and have no trust who or where to persue to get them to market without getting ripped off. Can you help??

by: andrew onorio sr