Questions to ask an Invention Marketing Company BEFORE spending any money with them.
By Jeffrey Dobkin
For over 15 years I was a member of the Board of Directors for the American Society of Inventors (a non-profit inventor self-help group), and their President for 4 more years.
The organization came under new leadership and I left. It has since became dysfunctional and ceased to be of help to inventors, so I started the Philadelphia Inventors Alliance and the new American Society of Inventors to continue to offer help area inventors.
Over the years I’ve seen lots of inventors horribly swindled by ruthless, unscrupulous scams under the title of “Invention marketing” companies.
In the interest of keeping inventors safe, I have written fairly extensively about it and a lot of this writing can be found at JeffreyDobkin.com under the Inventors link in the home page Navigation Bar.
I wasn’t the only one who saw inventors get ripped off.
In 1999, it got so bad the federal government passed a bill entitled “The Inventor Protection Act of 1999.” I’ve included it at the conclusion of this post.
Over the years we’ve had many invention marketing firms request to speak to our group, or to email our members.
It’s not that easy – they go through the tough Jeff Dobkin vetting process. And I’m a tough mark to get passed.
Not many make it because, well… they don’t deserve it. Their processes range from no help to inventors, to a lousy contract that won’t allow the inventor to make any money, to a direct rip-off of the inventor’s money.
To prevent this, first —
I ask to see a typical contract they offer inventors.
Most of the time I get the same answer: “Each inventor and each circumstance is different and blah blah blah….” Yea, I get it.
That’s the first RED FLAG they send.
Still, I always ask to see what they say. It’s a time for the good guys to shine! And the bad guys to fast-dance and side step.
They may not want to send me a particular client’s contract as a matter of confidentiality and I’m OK with that. But hey – for them to say they have no sample contract or typical contract? Really? Are you kidding me?
They’re saying in effect: even though we’ve serviced hundreds of inventors (thousands of inventors) we write a brand new contract from scratch each time an inventor walks in the door. Hummmm… smells funny, don’t you think?
If the invention marketing firm serves inventors as clients every day, day in, day out, I’m pretty sure they must have some standard contracts, standard language, or standard parts of contracts… especially if they’ve written hundreds or thousands of inventor contracts.
Seems kind of unlikely each inventor contract would be new and written from scratch. I would think some clauses would be standard across all inventor’s contracts.
So… let’s see them.
Next, I ask about their standard fees.
Some fees would also be standard, so let’s see them as well.
Yea yea, every inventor is different. I understand that.
BUT: if they don’t show me anything at this point, something ain’t right… and they don’t get to speak to our group.
In my own business I offer writing, marketing and advertising agency services to clients. Is each client different? Sure. Are some parts of my services priced in the same range every time. Yep, every time. Do I have a standard billing rate? Yes, I do. (I actually have a corporate billing rate for large companies, and an entrepreneurial rate that’s more favorable to young bootstrapped firms without much money) I send a printed price sheet to people who ask for one. Definitely yes. It’s called being transparent – and having nothing to hide.
Writing direct mail letters is a large part of my business. After writing 1,000 letters for clients, I can comfortably say a letter takes me about 8 to 10 hours to research, write, edit and design. And typically costs my client $1,250 per page. If I could figure out how to do it in less time and charge less I would.
Are there some variables in writing letters for a diverse group of direct mail houses? Sure. But, this is usually what a direct mail letter from me costs. And if you called me up and asked what a letter written by me costs, I’d tell you on the phone at that time they typically cost $1,250.
So after handling hundreds (or thousands) of inventor clients, I would think some basic costs of different services would be known… and in the interest of transparency would be available to anyone who called and inquired. If not, a bigger red flag goes up.
Really? An invention marketing firm that doesn’t know it’s own prices, rates or charges? Smells bad.
If an invention marketing firm won’t give you any typical charges,
I’m going to say you should take a pass. I would.
If you still want to stick around, before you hand them your first hard earned dollar, you actually do need to know some approximate costs. Like, their approximate costs for their initial tasks and the way they bill.
They should know that. And be able and open to tell you.
You should know that as well – up front.
You should know what to expect.
Even at worst, they should give you approximate costs or a realistic range of charges for their initial services. You also should know exactly, specifically what you are going to get for your money. It’s your money.
Otherwise you are saying to the invention marketing firm:
“I don’t know exactly what you’re going to do for me. I don’t know what you’re going to charge me. I don’t know your billing rate, and I don’t know what my overall costs are going to be. And I have no idea what I’m going to get, or what I’ll pay for, for, well… whatever I get. But, I’m OK with that. How much should I make out this initial check for?”
To me, that isn’t realistic. You have nothing – no plan of product development, no marketing plan, no idea of costs, no quote, no goals and no baseline to measure success or failure.
Before hiring any invention marketing firm, here are some tough questions to ask:
• What is your goal for me, and for my invention?
• If it’s product development, what will the deliverable be?
— Precisely what are you going to give me or do for me? Finished manufacturing prototype? Samples? Specifications to make the product? Test market? Manufacture several real products I can sell? And how many?
Note: A “Manufacturing prototype” is very different from an initial prototype which is handmade from local parts and shows proof the concept will work. It’s also different from a traditional prototype, which will show the product in a good developed stage that can be shown to manufacturers, investors, or potential licensors, but can’t be used to specify parts or show the tolerances necessary for commercial manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Prototype is a specification list of parts as will be used in manufacture.
• If the invention marketing company is actually going to market your invention, what is the initial run? How many will they make up front.
• What is the marketing plan. Ask to see several marketing plans for other inventions.
• If the marketing campaign you create is successful (what number do we call success?), what will I have to invest in product, packaging, design, distribution, marketing and what is my breakeven? What will I get back financially overall from my investment What will I make from each sale? If you sell a product for $50, what do I make?
• Is the goal to sell one? 10? 1,000? 10,000? To get a distributor to buy thousands of them? Get placed in 50 catalogs? To license it out? What is the revenue goal? And what is my financial investment budget necessary to reach this goal?
• If your goal is to get the product licensed, who are the target industries and the target firms; how will you contact them and who inside the firms are you going to contact? How many firms will you contact? What will you send them?
• What contract will you offer them? What do you typically present to them? What offer are you going to propose? If they’ve done this a few hundred times, they should know this off the top of their heads.
• What license are you going to send them? (NOTE: It would NOT be in your best interest to ask every potential licensor for them to write the licensing contract, or say “Hey, send me your best offer!”)
• Do we have a goal? What will my monetary investment be to reach this goal? Or at least to initially start.
• What do you anticipate my TOTAL costs will be?
• And the costs for each step on the way?
I don’t think there is any medium sized or large company in the world that will launch a product and not know the initial cost, total cost or what they expect in sales. Every company, every product has a budget and a revenue goal. Every!
I could go on… but you get the idea. There should be a lot of forethought that goes into any invention product launch. A firm that does this for a living should know the steps, and the costs inside out and backwards with their eyes closed. If there isn’t an overall inventor plan they can discuss intelligently with you, something’s wrong.
Then I ask: “Can you summarize what you just said and send the proposal to me in a letter. Thanks.”
Asking for a proposal summary in a letter is very important.
Getting one is even more crucial. When a prospective client for my own firm asks for a proposal, I send a short letter of what the proposed work is, what I’ll charge them (a firm quote or a range of costs) and what they’ll get (exactly what will be delivered – the deliverables).
Then ask the invention marketing firm: Let’s talk about your costs:
If they say they don’t know their own costs, hang up the phone. Game over.
Tougher Questions to ask an Invention Marketing Company:
What is the average cost for your services? However they charge, they can tell you about it here.
Overall, what is the average spend most people invest in your services.
They should know this! If not, tell them “OK, please take a look at your last 20 clients financial spreadsheets, and see what they’ve spent, then let me know. Go ahead, I’ll wait!
Ask about Billing
Do you bill by hourly – and what is the charge/hour?
Do you bill by project?
What are your typical projects, and their typical costs?
Note: if they don’t know this, or won’t tell you, just walk away. What kind of firm would not know their own processes? Or costs.
Sure, every product, every industry and every invention is different. Still come commonalities exist between them all.
If they don’t tell you any costs – or range of costs – it would be like going into a brake and muffler shop and asking what it costs for new brakes, and the manager says well… all cars are different! And he doesn’t know, and can’t give you an estimate. And he’s not sure of the process of he’s going to use to repair them. Would you say OK to this? No… me neither.
Ask what are your costs for the following services:
And what is this exactly? What do they do?
What do you do under the banner of “Marketing”?
Be specific. Ask to see a marketing plan they’ve done for another invention. If they’re not comfortable with this, they can take out the name of the product and send you the raw plan outline. If brief, but include the specifics. If they say they’ll send your invention out to retailers or distributors, ask how many. And to name a few. With the buyers names and titles. And where did they get their list from?
If they say the market is huge and they’re sure you’ll be successful because it’s so big, here’s my synopsis of this approach: bullshit. How large the industry is – that number doesn’t do you – the inventor – any good. Because an industry is big doesn’t mean anything about your success. Nothing. Nada. The automotive industry is huge, yet people selling products to that industry fail every single day.
If they say “We introduce your product to industry!” run away. I’ve owned a marketing agency for 30 years and have no idea what this means.
If they say “Market Research” ask what that means specifically. Market research can mean anything from “I asked a couple of friends about it after a few beers at a bar last night,” to “we send out a couple dozen brochures to company owners to see if they like it,” to, well… anything. Ask what the research project is, the hours it will take, and project costs.
Ask the goal to measure success or failure.
If the product looks like it’s going to fail in some way, when will they know and when will they tell you?
Failure can result from poor design (product just won’t work,) structurally faulty (will fail in the field after production,) in marketing (all the distributors and retailers are tied up with similar products); cost wise (your product will cost $50 to manufacture – driving the retail price up to over $200 – and other similar products in the industry are selling at retail for $25. If that happens I’m pretty sure your product will have no sales.
Then – get these proposals in writing.
When you get things in writing it clarifies everything. Then later when things get rough, you have a ready reference to what they said. It’s not like an oral agreement where the firm can deny they stated anything or that you must have misunderstood what they said.
Look, I can understand if someone won’t do all this, jump through all these hoops, for a contract that will have a value to them of $200 bucks. But if you are going to spend several thousand dollars – sometime tens of thousands – with them, they should show good faith and send you some plans and quotes in writing. Period.
It’s called a proposal.
I write proposals all the time.
Every client, every job.
I have standard proposals I use for most things, and just lay in the parameters and costs.
If I create an ad for a client, I send a proposal first:
“I will create an ad this size by this size, it includes photography (one photograph), copy and typesetting and will cost you this much. You will receive a rough draft to make any changes, then the final ad in print and in an electronic PDF file. Payment terms are…”
It’s all above board, they know what they are getting, at what cost. I know what they are getting and what and when I will be paid.
Websites, Brochures and Literature:
Lots of invention marketing firms offer brochures of inventors proposed products. Most now offer website pages because it’s wildly profitable for them.
If you want them to create a brochure or web page and host it, get a quote.
I feel it’s usually better to get brochures, literature and web pages from a an advertising agency. They’re better at it, and their costs are not mushed in with “marketing” and product development costs so you can’t figure out what you are paying for each item or service. Product development costs and website and brochure costs are quite different, quite separate.
If you think the invention marketing firm can do a good job with literature and website stuff I’m OK with that. Simply ask: ‘please send exact costs, and several samples of the brochures you’ve done for other clients. And a link to the web pages you’ve created.’ That way you’ll know what you’re getting before you spend money on something that may not be any good or of good value.
Note the quality of website work:
Number of pages – cost per page.
Layout & Design
Keep in mind if they put your invention page on their website no one will show up to see it. While I’ve heard lots of ‘Invention Marketing’ firms say it can be viewed by 80,000,000 internet users I assure you no one will find your product invention page buried deep in their website. No one.
Ask if the invention marketing firm offers a Press Campaign:
Ask about cost of writing the Press Release. And distribution.[NOTE: when a real marketing agency (like mine) writes press releases they write 3 of them: one for retail sales which shows the product benefits to end users; one for retailers that shows how fast the product will sell and how much money the retailer will make; and one for distributors showing wholesale profits, shipping and packaging information. Additionally each industry gets it’s own paragraph in the release specifically referencing the industry.]
See if they do all that…
Ask the invention marketing firm if they send press releases to magazines and newspapers. And to companies.
Where do they get their mailing list?
Cost of each package being sent
Title of the people on the mailing list
Is there a letter going with it
Are letters personalized? (They should be!)
[Note: my firm ALWAYS sends a letter with EVERY release – no exceptions!] Do they do any follow up? (They should.)
Ask about the research time they spend to do all of this…
Phone calls – do they make phone calls up-front to each of the VIP editor recipients?
And what success have they had for other clients? (Ask for samples of the write ups that appeared in print.)
NOTE: if all their press releases are sent by e-mail from a service, that actually DOESN’T WORK. You can get 10,000 press releases sent by email for a few hundred dollars. No on reads them – they are all spam!)
Are they sending Direct mail?
Cost per mailing
Mailing List: to whom, what’s the source of list.
How many pieces will they mail?
Posting on Web
Page make-up cost (creative)
If the invention marketing firm says we post your invention on our website and there are 80,000,000 people who have access to it: ask how they will inform each person to go to your website page (because no on will go there without some kind of notification)? Ask how many visitors – page views – do they get for 1. their website, and 2. other inventors pages*? ( I know I know I said this earlier – but it’s important so I left it in.)
(*This figure is available through Google analytics)
Ask for references:
Several customers you can call. Then call them. Ask how many units they’ve sold, where, and what kind of revenue they received. What was their cost? You don’t want to know who nice they were to do business with – that should be a given. Ask how much money they made with them marketing their invention. That’s the bottom line.
Ask the invention marketing firm how many customers have made more money than they’ve spent with your company?
This last question is actually one of the questions from the Inventor Protection Act of 1999. If they don’t have a ready answer ask where can you find that information on their website. It’s the law they show you this information. If they don’t, they are breaking the law – and what does that tell you about doing business with them?
If they offer legal services, have the services broken down by cost. Services may include legal counsel, patent search, provisional patent. Ask what is the typical cost of each.
Can you point me to where I can find several of your successful products?
If they point to products posted to their website, that isn’t really success.
If they point to their client inventor products in CVS, Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes, Toys-R-Us – and say they are in ALL of these stores – or even just a few – that means success. If they have one invention in a local CVS, that doesn’t count as successful – or give them the right to say they have products in CVS. If your invention winds up in one Home Depot, you won’t be paying off your mortgage quite so fast.
Ask how many products – out of how many inventions they accepted – are in these stores?
The reason to ask: If it’s just one success story out of hundreds, thousands of inventions – what do you think your chances are?
Ask: Can you show me a pattern of success for several of your inventors?
What campaign did you run for their successes?
If they say we created a drawing or video and posted it on their website so 80,000,000 people can see it, that isn’t success. That’s an ad. It’s what they did to bill the inventor client and doesn’t show ANY product success. That would be like saying “You can see our success, we took out an ad in a newspaper.”
Success is measured NOT in how many web pages you create or how many ads you’ve placed, it’s measured in sales and how many units you’ve sold.
What good does posting your product to a web page do? Can people buy the product there? Does the invention marketing company get any sales for any of the other inventions they post? Are prices and ordering information on each page? No price = no orders.
If people see your product on a web page, so what? You don’t make any money from people seeing it. To sell a product you need an order form or a phone number to order from.
Most importantly, ask what they do to drive visitors to your page.
Because if they don’t do anything amazing, I’m pretty sure no one shows up to see your pages. There are 80,000,000 other websites. No one will know to go to that website and then further on to your page.
Ask: What is the first thing you do when people sign up for your program?
Then what’s next step, and the next? They should know this. It’s the same for every invention. The first steps are always the same.
What’s the cost of each step, and what is the overall expense. And how does that step make money for you, or point you to making money… or is it just worthless fluff to make them money.
When – a realistic time frame – does the inventor’s first revenue show up? When does the inventor become profitable?
How do you measure success for each campaign?
What is the criteria for success? If that part of the campaign is successful, what is the end result?
Ask: What do you do when early testing isn’t successful?
Do they stop spending client money and recommend complete regrouping? Or recommend criteria for go-no/go?
Face it: All initial marketing is a test. At least that’s what I’ve found. So I limit the spend of any initial campaign until we see the some results, or at least the needle move in one direction. If the needle doesn’t move, we stop.
Analyzing the Invention Marketing Firm’s Website
Things I look for on an invention marketing firm’s website:
Reviews and testimonials:
Some firms have a lot of “nice” reviews. That’s NOT what I’m looking for.
For example the testimonial says: “They are really nice to deal with.” and “They held my hand every step of the way.” “They kept me advised of every step.”
These kinds of reviews are NOT HELPFULl. At all. If you want a friend, buy a dog.
Here’s what those reviews tell me:
“They are really nice to deal with, while they were taking my money.” and “They held my hand every step of the way, while they were taking my money.” “They kept me advised of every step while they continued to take my money, take my money and take more money.”
It’s a business relationship.
You hire an invention marketing firm for a specific end goal: to make you money. That’s the end result of the business relationship, you make more money than you spent with them.
If you enter a business relationship, which is what this is, they need to help you make you money – that’s the only, only business goal.
If you don’t make money on this one, how will you make money on the next one? Because without making money this time, there won’t be a next one. Making money = success. No money = failure. Any questions?
If making money isn’t your invention goal – that’s OK, too!
You just need to say this up-front. It’s a different path.
And you don’t need an invention marketing company.
If you just want your product developed so you can show it to friends, there are much cheaper routes: make one yourself in your basement! Or – find a prototypist and have him or her make you a sample.
Cost: Several hundred dollars. And done. No endless string of bills, bills and more bills – which is what you get from an unscrupulous marketing firm, along with a come-on of how great your product is.
If you want to make money – which should be your goal, the reviews and testimonials should say exactly what the marketing firm did for other inventors to reach that goal of making money.
The review should say how many stores the inventor’s product is in, or how many units they sold. How many distributors carry it.
That’s how you measure success. And that’s how you measure customer references and testimonials: did they make any money for their customers – and did the customers say it in their testimonials and references.
NOT: “Oh, they were nice to me, nice to deal with.” And, “They kept me up to date with everything they did.” Those are NOT business goals and that’s NOT what the reviews need to say for you to hire them.
If you look at the testimonials on my site they say things like “I mailed 100 of your letters and 4 people called me.” “The letter you wrote for us 3 years ago continues to generate a 5% response rate, and we still mail it!” That shows you the success of my work for my clients.
I’m not looking for a marketing firm with people who’s job it is to be nice to me. With any business, the people should be nice to you. It’s called good customer service.
Want someone to be nice to you, go to Starbucks.
It’s cheaper: for a $5 coffee and a $5 tip the server will be really, really nice to you. Total cost: $10.
Invention marketing companies will be really, really nice to you until you are out of money – they they won’t speak with you on the phone. In fact, you won’t be able to get them on the phone.
Want your product developed and sold? Want to make money from it? Look for that in their online reviews.
Don’t spend thousands – and thousands – of dollars for a hand-holding process at an invention marketing firm. Because while their one hand is holding you firmly so you don’t move away, their other hand is reaching into your pants pocket and taking your money out of your wallet.
If you are going to spend thousands of dollars with a firm, and hours and hours dealing with them over months or years – do your homework: research! Spend a few hours looking them up online. Read their website. Call their references. Ask direct questions.
Ask tough questions about the specifics of what they do, and what it costs. You have a right to know up front – it’s YOUR MONEY.
Ask them questions they are uncomfortable with. You may be uncomfortable with some of the questions as well. Better to find out NOW if they are any good – or bad – BEFORE you spend any money with them, not after it’s too late and you’re trying to figure out how to get your money back. Because I promise you it will be very difficult to get your money back.
Ask tough questions and at the end of the day you’ll have answers, real answers, and will still have your own money in your own pocket. Then get it all in writing. Because you will never know if they are simply smooth talking crooks until it’s too late, and they have your money and won’t answer your phone calls. Then what are you going to do?
Frankly, I’d rather be uncomfortable for a few minutes with tough questions and keep my money, than not ask tough questions – and lose it.
Here’s the bottom line: Keep in mind if they are evasive in answering your tough questions initially, it will get much, much worse later after they have your money.
It will get harder and harder to get straight answers, and they will continually ask you for more money. You will feel you need to protect your initial investment by giving them more money. I’ve seen it. That’s what they do. They’re very good at what they do: fleecing inventors. Beware.
Your money, your choice.
Hope this is helpful.
My personal opinion about Source Direct.
I didn’t see enough to recommend them. So… I filled out their form and asked these questions:
What do you charge for a provisional patent?
How much does a typical inventor spend on your services?
Do you bill by the hour? What is your hourly rate?
Do you bill by project? What are some typical projects and their costs?
Where can I see some successful products you’ve developed.
Please send me a sample typical contract. Thank you.
The response I got was partial. They don’t do patent work but can recommend someone.
They sent some figures saying “From concept to manufacturing to marketing, we’ve done them as low as $10,000 and as high as $200,000.”
I saw about a dozen inventions on their site. No prices. I wonder where the $200,000 product is showing up?
The rest of the answers were more vague, evasive or they just didn’t answer them.
For example, to my questions “Do you bill by the hour? What is your hourly rate? Do you bill by project?”
They said ”We bill by project step. We will never quote you from concept to store shelf. However, we have a pay-as-you-go program that helps inventors for each step.”
So… no hourly rate was given. No overall figure was give. It was a direct question.
Not much help.
They gave no examples or typical costs except as noted above in the ten thousand to two hundred thousand dollar range. Pretty extensive spread. No help there.
To my question “What are some typical projects and their costs?” They responded “As stated above, there is no typical. Each project is unique and has different needs.”
After 1,000 inventors have asked for help I would think there is a median cost in there somewhere. I’m not asking specifics, but what does the average inventor spend with you?
I asked for their contract and they responded:
They asked which contract was I asking for, they have two – one is a non-disclosure the other is terms and conditions. I would think if they have two contracts, they would simply send them both.
I wasn’t that impressed that they spoke to a lot of inventor groups. That’s what their marketing has done for them. That’s where they go to get THEIR clients. That’s where their money comes IN for them!
What I want to see is what their marketing has done for their inventor clients. Where is the money their inventors earn?
I was particularly unimpressed with their factory photographs: Photos of an factory somewhere in Asia, somewhere? A bin of Asian toothbrushes? A photograph of some unknown manufacturing dies? Even a photograph of the back of a truck. Really? That’s the best photograph they could come up with to show inventors – the back of a closed truck with no one’s name on it?
Where are all the photos of all the different inventor’s products on the store shelves? And products being made on the manufacturing line? And thousands of finished products in retail display boxes.
Where are the inventions they’ve developed into a real products – in line waiting to be packed in cartons and/or waiting to be shipped to distribution points and retail stores? And those products displayed in stores, on shelves? I missed that. Where are those photos?
Finally, I didn’t see the information required by the Inventor’s Protection Act anywhere on their site even though I looked. This doesn’t mean it’s not there, it just means I couldn’t find it. And I looked. Is it that buried, or is it just not there?
Hope this is helpful. Jeff Dobkin is a serial inventor and generally a pretty cranky guy when it comes to inventor marketing firms.
It’s tough to find a good marketing firm in the inventor industry.
We – our community of non-profit inventor groups – are indeed the exceptions.
Jeffrey Dobkin can be reached at Jeff @ Dobkin.com or by phone at The Danielle Adams Publishing Company office: 610-642-1000.
This article was first published on JeffreyDobkin.com, and is reprinted here with permission
This bill is the law and is for the Inventors protection. Here’s the bill:
This subtitle may be cited as the
‘‘Inventors’ Rights Act of 1999’’
SEC. 4102. INTEGRITY IN INVENTION PROMOTION SERVICES.
(a) IN GENERAL
Chapter 29 of title 35, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new section: §297. Improper and deceptive invention promotion
(a) IN GENERAL
—An invention promoter shall have a duty to disclose the following information to a customer in writing, prior to entering into a contract for invention promotion services:
‘‘(1) the total number of inventions evaluated by the invention promoter for commercial potential in the past 5 years, as well as the number of those inventions that received positive evaluations, and the number of those inventions that received negative evaluations;
‘‘(2) the total number of customers who have contracted with the invention promoter in the past 5 years, not including customers who have purchased trade show services, research, advertising, or other nonmarketing services from the invention promoter, or who have defaulted in their payment to the invention promoter;
‘‘(3) the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received a net financial profit as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter;
‘‘(4) the total number of customers known by the invention promoter to have received license agreements for their inventions as a direct result of the invention promotion services provided by such invention promoter; and ‘‘(5) the names and addresses of all previous invention promotion companies with which the invention promoter or its officers have collectively or individually been affiliated in the previous 10 years.
‘‘(b) CIVIL ACTION
(1) Any customer who enters into a contract with an invention promoter and who is found by a court to have been injured by any material false or fraudulent statement or representation, or any omission of material fact, by that invention promoter (or any agent, employee, director, officer, partner, or independent contractor of such invention promoter), or by the failure of that invention promoter to disclose such information as required under subsection (a), may recover in a civil action against the invention promoter (or the officers, directors, or partners of such invention promoter),
in addition to reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees—
‘‘(A) the amount of actual damages incurred by the customer; or
‘‘(B) at the election of the customer at any time before final judgment is rendered, statutory damages in a sum of not more than $5,000, as the court considers just.
‘‘(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), in a case where the customer sustains the burden of proof, and the court finds, that the invention promoter intentionally misrepresented or omitted a material fact to such customer, or will fully failed to disclose such information as required under subsection (a), with the purpose of deceiving that customer, the court may increase damages to not more than three times the amount awarded, taking into account past complaints made against the invention promoter that resulted in regulatory sanctions or other corrective actions based on those records compiled by the Commissioner of Patents under subsection (d)