Four of nine United Inventors Association board members have quit or have said they are going to quit – three on Wednesday, Oct. 14, in the wake of a newsletter sent under the auspices of InventHelp, an invention-submission company viewed by many as an industry pariah.
The UIA and InventHelp, formerly Invention Submission Corp., have been longstanding industry foes. (See our special report.)
In the newsletter, which looks like it comes from the UIA, InventHelp encourages people to take advantage of a 50% discount to become UIA members. See a copy of the newsletter.
Patent attorney, founder of IPWatchdog blog and UIA vice president Gene Quinn quit the board publicly, citing what he felt was an inappropriate alignment with the UIA and InventHelp. Specifically, he was loathe to take part in a proposed “fact-finding” tour of InventHelp.
UIA executive director Patrick Raymond said today he’s sorry to see his “friend” resign. He added that InventHelp offered to send the newsletter encouraging UIA membership, and the UIA accepted.
“As the industry watchdog, it was our duty to get more information,” Raymond said of the proposed tour of InventHelp. “Many have been invited on that tour, including yourself. Gene was skeptical, supportive, and then scared. I think he believes even setting foot in the building would reflect badly on him. But that’s what watchdogs do, they oversee.”
(Raymond has asked me and Inventors Digest publisher Louis Foreman to take part in the tour. I’m interested in doing a story – again – on the invention-submission industry. I’m not interested in conducting my journalistic duty as part of a UIA tour. Foreman likewise has expressed no interest in joining this proposed tour.)
There’s an animated GIF on the bottom left corner of the newsletter. Gleaned from a 10-part video Web series shot at our building this year, the GIF cycles images and names of Foreman, By Kids For Kids founder and former UIA board member Norm Goldstein (who resigned earlier this year), marketing/licensing agent Trevor Lambert, and UIA president Ron Reardon.
The four represent key areas of the invention industry: publishing, youth innovation, intellectual property, and the UIA itself. None of those people pictured, with the possible exception of Ron Reardon, approved of their likenesses being used in the newsletter.
“There are 15 people in that miniseries,” said Raymond, who approved the content of the newsletter, prior to InventHelp hitting send. “Those four people were picked completely at random. You could take any of those 15 and find a pattern as well. I regret not having called those four, who had signed releases.”
Joe Lininger, director of marketing at InventHelp, said the first four subjects in the animated GIF from the UIA’s site were selected to keep the file size small enough for an e-mailing and that there was no selection process.
InventHelp paid a $1.2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in the 1990s for misrepresenting the success rate of its promotional services. InventHelp founder Martin Berger last year told Inventors Digest, “We really have gotten better. If you were to ask me the one thing that allowed this company to grow, it’s that FTC consent decree.”
The company has not had any run-ins with federal authorities since. Its ubiquitous cave-man ads continue to run on ESPN and other networks. Yet the company has been unable to shake a reputation that it preys on naive inventors, wresting escalating fees for what critics say are marketing materials of dubious value.
InventHelp president Bob Susa told Inventors Digest that, “Our success rate isn’t where we want it to be, but we keep getting better and better. We work really hard to market inventions. We have a lot of good stuff going on.”
He said product developer Jim DeBetta invited him to a meeting with invention-industry players at an event he hosted in Las Vegas earlier this year.
“(DeBetta) basically said, ‘Can we set aside rumors and innuendo and figure out ways to move forward in the industry?’ He and I had a long conversation. He asked me to come along, but couldn’t promise me what kind of reception I’d get.”
Susa said he and Reardon hit it off in Vegas.
“I really liked him,” Susa said of Reardon. “I thought he had some good ideas for the future of the UIA. I was able to talk to him about us and invited him and anyone he wanted to bring along to get to know us better.”
Susa said he had a subsequent conversation with Raymond, which went equally well. Susa said he offered to send a mailing on behalf of the UIA to InventHelp’s subscribers, which Susa said numbered 180,000.
“It was an olive branch to say, ‘Hey, we want to work with the UIA,’” Susa said. “I think (Raymond) is trying to grow his membership, which may not be enough to pay the bills. We didn’t try to take advantage of this for PR purposes. I feel terrible that he’s taking so much heat for this.”
UIA board member Bonnie Griffin Kaake officially resigned yesterday. Another board member told Inventors Digest yesterday he would resign. That has yet to happen, so we are not printing his name.
Reardon is traveling in Peru and is expected back on Monday, when Raymond said they’ll all address the imbroglio.
Raymond said there is no quid pro quo regarding InventHelp gaining certification, a program Raymond conceived to help bring invention companies “into compliance” with best business practices. See our story UIA Certified – Is It the Real Deal?
“This is a flap over an invitation” for a fact-finding tour, Raymond said. “Nothing has happened. (InventHelp) has not applied for certification.”
He added that the newsletter offer via InventHelp was a one-time event.
Inventors Digest will continue to monitor developments.