Over the years I have written quite a bit about invention scams, and in fact one of my most popular pages is The Truth About Invention Promotion Companies, which typically comes up in the top few sites in Google and Yahoo when a search is done for invention promotion companies. It is sadly true that there are a lot of fraudulent operators in the invention and patent market, but one of the operators that I have had my eye on for some time is not a true invention promotion or scam company, but rather a patent attorney who gives all of the rest of us a bad name. Beware Michael Kroll and Invention.net!
I recently came across US Patent No. 7,389,739, which was issued on June 24, 2008, and is entitled Tailgate position indication marker. This patent was obtained for the inventor by Michael Kroll, and is listed as one of his successful patents on his website, Invention.net. Many frequent readers of IPWatchdog.com know that I have taught patent application and patent claim drafting courses now for over 10 years. As I read through the ‘739 patent I was appalled by the quality. Had a student of mine submitted this for a grade it would have received an F. I am not going to opine one way or another about whether this invention should have been patented, but this patent is surely evidence that not all patents are created equally. What is perhaps most sad is that some independent inventor spent a lot of money obtaining this poorly written patent. Maybe what is most sad of all is that the US Patent Office continues to allow Kroll to represent unsuspecting clients.
First, in the Background of the Invention the term “prior art” is used to describe prior inventions that relate to the subject matter of the invention. The term “prior art” should never be used in a patent applciation, and good patent attorneys simply don’t do this. You never want to admit that something is prior art in a patent application. This is just plain sloppy.
Also in the Background section, paragraph after paragraph lists various US Patents that are considered by the applicant to be prior art. Not only are these admitted to being prior art, but they are described in detail as to what each patent teaches. I know that the book Patent It Yourself suggests that you do this, but just because it is suggested in a book doesn’t make it right. In fact, no patent attorney that I know would ever draft like this because of the negative consequences that come along with such admissions.
Then at the end of the Background this is what is said:
While these tailgate indication marker devices may be suitable for the purposes for which they were designed, they would not be as suitable for the purposes of the present invention, as hereinafter described.
What should be explained at this section of the patent application is what is missing, lacking, inferior or undesirable about those inventions that make up the prior art. If you cannot explain what is wrong with the prior art in 1 to 3 sentences then you really ought to question whether you have an invention worth patenting.
Lest you think this is just one patent attorney (namely me) criticizing and second guessing another patent attorney (namely Michael Kroll), it is widely known that Attorney Kroll is ethically challenged and the Patent Office and disciplinary authorities have known about his shenanigans for some time. Specifically, here is a list of some of the more widely known issues Attorney Kroll has had:
- On February 25, 2004, the United States Patent & Trademark Office suspended Attorney Kroll for three years. The suspension was then stayed provided that Kroll refunded half of the attorneys fees paid by 75 inventors he represented and otherwise complied with the terms of a settlement agreement. See Notice of Suspension.
- The Final Order issued by the Patent Office in the above referenced suspension also stated that Kroll must obtain client signatures on documents that require the client’s signature, identify and fix all defective signatures in pending patent applications, charge and collect reasonable fees and clearly articulate the specific services covered by the specific fees charged.
- In approximately 1990, Elly Ildiko Elias conceived of the idea of making a “LOVE BED” for dogs and puppies. As described in a letter she later wrote to her Congressman, she contacted Kroll through the Yellow Pages, and after putting “faith and trust in [his] advertisement,” paid him $8425 to obtain a patent claiming her invention. On August 28, 1990, Kroll filed a patent application on her behalf, which, according to Elias, disclosed that the LOVE BED could be made of wood, with mattress, bed sheets, narrow pillow, with pillow cases, and that the LOVE BED could come in different sizes, and would be a great gift idea. Approximately one year later, Elias was looking through an L.L. Bean Inc. catalogue, and saw a dog bed for sale, allegedly very similar to the one described in her patent application. When Elias called Kroll to report this possible act of infringement, he was “not very nice,” and he allegedly rebuffed her subsequent calls inquiring about the progress of her patent application, stating only that “it will take a very long time.” It was not until the summer of 1992, when Elias contacted another attorney to investigate the matter, that Kroll disclosed to her that the PTO actually had rejected her application in July 1991. Upset over Kroll’s failure to inform her promptly of the rejection, Elias wrote a letter to her Congressman, who forwarded the complaint to the Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee informed Kroll of the matter and dismissed the complaint, subject to Kroll’s future compliance with his professional responsibilities.
- In January 1993, Charles Strieber hired Kroll to file a patent application on his behalf. For approximately $21,000, Kroll prepared several dozen drawings, but never finalized the application. In April 1995, Strieber terminated Kroll’s representation, and requested by phone an accounting of his payments and the return of his files. On August 11, 1995, Strieber wrote Kroll a letter (signed, “Zombies for Ever, Charles Strieber”), repeating his request. On September 16, 1996, his request still unfulfilled, Strieber filed a complaint with the Grievance Committee.
- On March 2, 1996, Vincent Davi gave Kroll his credit card number and authorized a charge of $825.00 to initiate a patent application. Kroll charged $850.00 to the card on March 2, 1996, an additional $800.00 on March 8, 1996, and a further $1850.00 on March 10, 1996. After repeatedly calling Kroll, insisting that he credit his account for the overcharges, Davi closed his credit card account, initiated a fraud investigation, and filed a complaint with the Grievance Committee.
Several years ago, I also had the opportunity to get in touch with Attorney Kroll. I had been contacted by a TV series that wanted to profile inventions by independent inventors and asked if I could help them locate a few that were interesting and patented. I did some searching and found one that looked interesting. The attorney of record was Michael Kroll, so I contacted him to try and get in touch with his client. To make a long story short, after a number of telephone calls and e-mails I gave up. Why a patent attorney would not want to have a client’s invention profiled on TV is beyond me, but that just seems to fit in with all the other stories about Invention.net.