From the wheel to the telephone to the automobile, inventions have been changing the world since the dawn of humankind. In the modern world of the 21st century, inventors are still making waves and changing society – and getting rich in the process.

If you have an excellent idea for a new product or an improvement on an existing product, you need to proceed carefully. Before you can hire a manufacturer to bring your design to life or work with a shop to create a prototype, you need to take steps to protect your invention and the intellectual property it represents.

That means hiring a patent attorney or patent expert to protect your intellectual property and secure the rights to your invention. But how can you be sure the patent attorney you have hired has the expertise needed to do the job, and how can you be sure the patent expert you are working with has your best interests at heart?

The good news is that most patent attorneys are honest and upfront about what they can, and cannot, do for you. Unfortunately, however, there are some bad actors out there, scammers who will take your money without providing the intellectual property protection you deserve. Worse yet, some of these patent attorney firms will steal your idea, leaving you high and dry and without much recourse going forward.

Before you hire a patent attorney or move forward with your invention, you need to review your options carefully and thoroughly vet the firm. You also need to be on the lookout for the top 10 warning signs of a patent scam, including the ones outlined below.

  1. The Attorney Promises a Patent

No matter how original you think your idea is, there is a good chance that someone has thought of something similar. That is why it is so important to hire a qualified patent attorney, one who can conduct a thorough patent search and make sure your idea is indeed unique.

No patent attorney, no matter how good or experienced, can guarantee a patent on your invention. Some unscrupulous operators will promise they can secure a patent in an attempt to raise hefty up-front fees, and falling for this tactic could be quite costly. Beware of anyone who makes such promises, as patent law just does not work that way.

  1. The Attorney Offers an Expedited Patent Search

The patent search is an integral part of patenting your invention and protecting your intellectual property. Unfortunately, the process will take some time, so it pays to be patient.

There are databases to search, information to uncover, and previous patents to explore. That means you cannot expedite the search to any significant degree. Beware of the patent attorney who promises to do the patent search fast, since a cursory exploration of the patent database may not be sufficient. If you opt for an expedited patent search, you could move forward with your design, only to have it challenged by the original patent holder.

  1. You are Required to Pay High Up-Front Fees

There will be some costs involved in the patent process, so asking for fees is not necessarily the sign of a scam. It is the size of those charges that should raise some red flags, so do your homework and understand the going rate for each part of the patent search and patent-pending process.

It is important to compare fees and costs carefully since every patent attorney will have a different rate. If the patent law firm you are considering is charging fees outside the norm, you may want to look for another patent attorney.

  1. You Are Asked to Sign Over Rights to Your Invention

Some unscrupulous operators will ask the inventors they work with to sign over the rights to their invention. You may be asked to sign over the rights to your design so that the patent attorney can reach out to their contacts in a particular industry, or to speed the patent search process. Either way, this kind of request should throw up some huge red flags.

You have worked hard to create your invention and fine tune your design, and you should never sign over your hard work to someone else. If you decide to sell your idea to a particular company or take on a partner, that should be your decision. You should not allow an unscrupulous patent attorney to make that decision for you.

  1. The Attorney Claims to Have Insider Contacts

When you conduct a patent search, you will be working with databases controlled by the US Patent Office, and that can mean endless amounts of red tape. Some shady patent attorneys may claim to have insider connections in the government, contacts that can speed up the process and fast track your application.

While some government workers may be willing to bend the rules on behalf of a particular patent attorney, taking that approach is dangerous and could be counterproductive in the long run. Resist the temptation to cut corners or skip steps during the patent application process.

  1. The Attorney Does Not Specialize in Patent Law

The patent process is a highly specialized part of the law, and taking an invention from patent pending to patent granted requires some particular expertise. Some generalist law firms take on inventors as clients, claiming knowledge they do not have.

It is essential to ask about the background, training, and expertise of any patent attorney with whom you are planning to work. If the law firm is too general, you might want to move on and seek one with specific expertise in patent law and intellectual property protection.

  1. You Are Asked to Go Forward Before the Patent Pending Process is Complete

No matter how anxious you are to get started, you must view the patent and intellectual property protection process as a continuum. Before you spend a ton of money on designs and prototypes, you need to make sure that no one else holds a patent on your idea.

Beware of any patent attorney who urges you to move forward without first conducting a thorough patent search and securing a patent for your idea. This advice could turn out to be very expensive if someone else has patented what you thought was your original idea.

  1. The Attorney Claims You Do Not Need Protection in Foreign Markets

While many inventors are focused on the U.S. market, the worldwide demand can be just as significant. As the inventor, you will need intellectual property protection no matter where you choose to market and sell your product.

Beware of any patent attorney who claims you do not need protection in foreign markets, or that the protection of intellectual property doesn’t matter in those areas. A good patent attorney will be able to guide you through each step of the patent-pending process no matter which countries you choose to target.

  1. The Attorney Promises to Buy Out the Original Patent Holder

In some cases, your patent search may reveal that another inventor already holds the patent on your idea. That can be extremely disappointing, especially if you were sure it was 100% original.

Some unscrupulous patent attorneys will try to soothe your disappointment by offering to buy out the original patent holder. While it is possible that the holder of the patent will agree to sell, no reputable patent attorney can make such a guarantee.

  1. Other Inventors Have Bad Things to Say

If you want to know how good, or bad, a particular patent attorney is, you need to talk to other inventors who have already worked with the firm. A good patent attorney will be only too happy to share their success stories and provide references for you to contact.

Beware of any patent attorney who seems reluctant to offer references or allow you to check with past customers. If you do find recommendations, be sure to check them thoroughly, ask pointed open-ended questions and listen carefully for the answers. Former clients can tell you a great deal about the quality and reliability of the patent attorney you are considering.

Whether you have a great idea for a new product or an original design idea to improve an existing product, it is vital to protect your intellectual property rights and safeguard your new design. The current patent law provides essential protections for inventors and entrepreneurs, and you should preserve those intellectual property protections with everything you’ve got.

By hiring a quality patent attorney, you can protect your intellectual property rights and get the patent you need to move forward with your design. While most patent attorneys are honest and reliable, there are also a few bad actors out there, unscrupulous operators who give the honest ones a bad name. Once you know what to look for and which warning signs to heed, it will be easier to pick out an excellent patent attorney and move forward with greater confidence.