What’s Behind the InventHelp Lawsuit?

Legal AssistantMass Torts, Personal Injury Law

As a child, Brian Antonelli clung to his mother’s apron anytime she would be in the kitchen whipping up her signature Italian wedding soup. He would help her make it when he got the chance to, and it was always a hit among guests. On her deathbed, he pledged to her that he would do something for her.

His dream had always been to recreate the soup and sell it commercially. “Mama Antonelli’s Ultimate Soups” was born, and the product label had his mother’s name and image. To help turn his dream into a reality, Brian enlisted the help of InventHelp, a company whose mission was to help inventors develop their ideas into commercially-viable products.

Upon meeting with company representatives, Brian alleges that they convinced him to take out a $10,000 loan to go toward paying for the services. Soon after receiving the funds, the company went mum, and they stopped returning his phone calls.

Brian didn’t just lose the chance to sell his soup to prospective companies; he is now in massive debt, and his credit is ruined since he could no longer afford to pay the loan. Brian Antonelli is among hundreds of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court. The lawsuit accuses the company of promoting a fraudulent inventing scam that has duped would-be inventors into paying millions of dollars.

What is the InventHelp lawsuit all about? Here’s the low-down on why the Pittsburgh-based company is in deep legal trouble.

What Does InventHelp Do

InventHelp touts itself as a “leading inventor service” that helps aspiring inventors turn their dreams into focus by ensuring they get a patent for their product through various avenues. The company helps individuals package their ideas and get a patent through low-cost patent referral services.

It then shares the idea with the 9,000+ firms in its Data Bank that are always on the lookout for bright new ideas and innovations. These companies sign a confidentiality agreement with InventHelp, allowing them to review inventors’ ideas but not steal them.

How Long Has InventHelp Been Around

InventHelp has been in operation since 1984 and has its headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA. The firm has more than 65 regional offices in different parts of the US and Canada. According to the information provided on the company’s official website, InventHelp invention services include:

  • Invention submission to companies: InventHelp packages individuals’ inventions, prepares product brochures and associated descriptive materials, and submits these materials confidentially to the firms signed up to the InventHelp Data Bank.
  • Company registration in the InventHelp Data Bank: The invention ideas are then submitted to the companies in their respective categories for consideration and feedback.
  • Patent Referrals: InventHelp patent services refer inventors to independent licensed patent attorneys to conduct a preliminary patent search and opinion. Based on the outcome, they may proceed to prepare and file a patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Creation of 3D animation: InventHelp has in-house animation professionals who create virtual invention presentations in the form of computer-generated 3D renderings to highlight the invention’s use and functionality.
  • Virtual Invention Browsing Experience (VIBE): VIBE is a cutting-edge virtual viewing station that lets companies in the Data Bank confidentially view the 3D animations of the invention ideas submitted to them. If they come across innovations of potential interest to them, the VIBE platform allows these companies to request to be contacted for further exploration.
  • Creation of prototype models: InventHelp can generate the prototype model of an invention idea using various materials, including PLA plastic, ABS plastic, and polypropylene (PP) resins. They produce the scaled-down physical representation of the product using computer-aided drawing (CAD) software and Fused Deposition Modeling technology.
  • Submission of publicity releases: InventHelp prepares a publicity release to announce the availability of an invention idea without disclosing functionality details. This public release is then submitted through the PR Newswire network, InventHelp’s online publicity distribution channel. PR Newswire reaches over 3,000 newsrooms, including ABC News, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, etc.

The Case of Etta Calhoun

Among the hundreds of plaintiffs named in the InventHelp class action suit is Etta Calhoun, a resident of Spring, Texas. The soft-spoken woman who was a patient educator at a local healthcare center had an idea for a design: To display Bible verses on pillow slips, bed sheets, and comforters.

Being a devout Christian, Etta wanted to find a way to inspire individuals battling illness with uplifting messages so that it would be the first thing they see when getting into bed. Despite her apparent enthusiasm, she had no idea how to go about getting a patent, building a prototype, or even where she would sell her custom beddings. That was until she came across one of the many cleverly-curated InventHelp TV commercials.

The specific ad she saw featured George Foreman, the Olympic gold medalist and two-time heavyweight boxing champion, and now-turned-ordained Christian minister, marketing the Pittsburgh-based company.

According to Etta, Foreman lending his name to InventHelp gave credence to the company, which was the stamp of approval she needed to reach out to them to help her turn her vision into reality.

InventHelp Scam

In 2012, she called the company, spoke to a representative, and got the ball rolling. Etta states that they tweaked her idea, suggesting that they incorporate an audio recorder into the pillow slip that would play the Bible verses attached to the bedding. She liked it, and since they were the professionals, she believed it elevated the product.

In the six months that followed, Etta had several meetings in various InventHelp locations in The Woodlands and Pearland, Texas, the focus of which was her innovation dubbed “The Word of God Bedding.”

She parted with a total of $200 as a downpayment for the “Basic Information Package Report” worth $780. According to company officials, there was “no other idea like it.” They had seen shawls and blankets with scripture verses on them but no bedding, which meant that they were good to go.

InventHelp required her to pay $9,950 to proceed to the next phase. Since she didn’t have the amount, the company directed her to an independent loan lender – Universal Payment Corporation. A lawsuit filed against InventHelp will determine how “independent” they really are.

InventHelp Lawsuit

empty united states courtroom

Once Etta Calhoun paid the requested amount, she alleges that InventHelp disappeared. All efforts to reach them and get them to deliver on their end of the deal proved futile. Her name is now the lead name on a class-action suit filed in Pennsylvania.

Calhoun and others allege that InventHelp and its associated companies are running a scam operation designed to prey on lower-income individuals, who, in most cases, are minorities. The suit alleges that once InventHelp receives the payment required to progress to the next step of the process, the company either does nothing or delivers subpar work.

A similar class-action suit has been filed in New York State. Plaintiffs in the case allege that the company’s activities are in violation of the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, the Consumer Protection Act, and the respective states’ unfair trade practices laws. InventHelp also stands accused of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud.

The class-action suits further assert that the few people who launch their products to the market with the company’s help end up spending more money with InventHelp and its holding company – Invention Submission Corporation – than they’ll ever make from the revenue generated from their inventions.

InventHelp also promises to market new innovations to the participating companies in their so-called Data Bank. Investigations into the legitimacy of these firms have revealed that many of them are sham companies or they don’t exist at all. The legitimate ones claim never to have signed any non-disclosure agreements with the inventions company and are in no way affiliated with it.

InventHelp and Invention Submission Corporation’s president Robert J. Susa has been named one of the defendants in the class action suits.

Similar Products on the Market

When Etta first presented her idea to InventHelp, they “changed it up” and assured her that her innovation was one-of-a-kind and that there were no other products on the market like it. Julie Pechersky Plitt, the plaintiffs’ attorney, stated that InventHelp had to modify her idea since:

  1. The law doesn’t allow individuals to patent words, and
  2. The market was flooded with similar products to what Etta was suggesting.

InventHelp has consistently denied all the allegations against it. The company filed motions to dismiss both cases, stating in one of the suits that the plaintiffs were never their clients. Their motions were denied, and the InventHelp lawsuit was given the green light to proceed.

George Foreman, the star of InventHelp TV commercials, has not been named a defendant in any lawsuits against the inventions firm. As a paid spokesman for the business, it is unclear how much insight he had into InventHelp’s inner workings.

Plitt believes that Foreman and his representations were single-handedly responsible for bringing in most of InventHelp’s clients, many of whom paid between $700 and $30,000+ for InventHelp’s services.

A lot of the company’s advertising-and-marketing campaigns were targeted at the African-American population. George Foreman appeals to that demographic, which is why InventHelp uses him in their ads.

African-American communities view him as someone who had an idea and profited immensely from it. They are under the impression that Foreman invented the grill and has made millions of dollars from it, which is, in fact, not the case.

InventHelp Reviews

A quick peek at InventHelp’s website would lead any unsuspecting person to believe they’re looking at a legitimate company running legitimate operations. The site is flooded with dozens of positive reviews from so-called “happy customers” who have profited from InventHelp’s services.

According to plaintiffs’ attorneys, they have uncovered evidence showing that most of the positive InventHelp reviews published on the website are either fake or have been written by newly-acquired customers, completely oblivious of the disappointment that lies ahead. Many of these customers who wrote glowing reviews about the company when they first started out with them are yet to get what they paid for two years down the line.

Yet, with its ubiquitous logo and ads depicting a stone-age man chiseling away at a stone wheel, the company has been in business for close to 40 years. InventHelp is the organizer of the Invention and New Product Exposition (INPEX) – the biggest inventions trade show in the US. Moreover, both InventHelp and Universal Payment Corporation have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

According to Plitt, the firm has continued to thrive despite being fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for flouting various regulations. It is not surprising, though. It is up to the attorneys general in individual states across the country to enforce laws designed to govern entities like these.

Outside the InventHelp website are several damning reviews from inventors, all claiming that the company took money from them and failed to deliver on its promises.

InventHelp Responds

The class-action suits filed in Pennsylvania and New York each seek a trial-by-jury, $72 million in compensatory damages, and $36 million in punitive and relief damages. The plaintiffs’ attorneys expect hundreds of aggrieved individuals to sign up for the suit, although they expect that number to run into the thousands.

InventHelp’s attorneys claim that the original lawsuit that was filed in New York was in the name of two individuals who were never clients of the company. They assert that they entered contracts with their competitor company “Invents Company” and not “InventHelp.”

The named plaintiffs that the firm’s attorneys are referring to are Etta Calhoun and Sherry Porter. However, Plitt confirmed that the two individuals signed contracts with InventHelp, and not Invents Company, as they alleged in their response.

Moreover, Plitt’s team has uncovered substantial evidence proving that an undeniable link between the two companies exists. Many of the plaintiffs have stated that they called the 1-800-InventHelp hotline number, only to get a call back from Invents Company representatives in response to their queries.

Are you a victim of the InventHelp scam? Chat online with a Laws101 attorney right now to find out how you can get in on the class-action suit.