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KDKA Investigates: In Federal Lawsuit, Local Inventors Say InventHelp Let Them Down

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - As a kid, Brian Antonelli was tethered to his mother's apron strings, helping her make her signature Italian wedding soup. When she died, he had a dream -- to market the soup with his mother's name and image on the label.

"Cause that was the promise I made to my mom as she was dying in her hospital bed that I was going to do something for her."

Hopes of realizing that dream came into sharp focus when Antonelli contacted InventHelp, a Pittsburgh-based company, which as they name implies, offers to help would-be inventors find companies to develop their products and sell them to the public.

Antonelli: "They promised me that they were going to market my soup and get it into market."
Sheehan: "And you were going to make a lot of money?"
Antonelli: "I was going to make a lot of money."
Sheehan: "Did that happen?"
Antonelli: "No."

Soon after convincing him to take out a $10,000 loan to pay for their services, Antonelli says InventHelp disappeared, stopped returning phone calls and, he says, never shopped his soup to prospective companies. Today, he's in debt and his credit is ruined because he stopped payment on the loan. But that's not his biggest sorrow.

"It stopped me from making a promise to my mom, and that hurt me more than anything," he says.

Antonelli is one of several hundreds of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court accusing InventHelp of "a deceptive and fraudulent inventing promotion scam that has bilked thousands of aspiring inventors into paying millions of dollars."

The suit claims the company dangles the prospect of riches, pressures prospective clients into expensive contracts, then reneges on their promise to market the product through a so-called "databank" of participating companies.

"In truth and in fact, many of these companies on these lists do not even exist and/or are sham companies. Others have not agreed to 'review new ideas in confidence,' have not signed non-disclosure agreements, and have no relationship whatsoever with InventHelp," the suit says.

Attorney Julie Pechersky Plitt said: "I would say this is fraud, pure and simple from start to finish. False promises, false companies, false licensing agreement. Everything about it is fraudulent."

KDKA's Andy Sheehan visited InventHelp's headquarters here in Pittsburgh -- he called and sent emails, seeking a response to these allegations but only received this short reply:

"InventHelp is very confident that it will prevail in (this) case, and is proud of the quality services it offers to inventors across the country."

On its website, the company prides itself on being "The Honest Invention Company," saying it's very upfront with would-be inventors about all of its fees, services and the long odds against their invention ever being developed or marketed.

InventHelp says it "makes no promises and does not imply a likelihood of success."

Sean Giliberti says the InventHelp representative he spoke with was very enthusiastic about his liquid therapy lamp -- which he describes as "a lava lamp on steroids."

He paid InventHelp $12,000, and while the company did secure a patent for the lamp, it also promised to market the lamp through its "databank."

But when Giliberti did not hear back, he decided to check himself. He found that several of the companies listed didn't exist, and he got this response from the ones he was able to contact:

Giliberti: "The people in charge were like, 'who's InventHelp? We don't know what you're talking about.'"
Sheehan: "They never heard of them."
Sheehan: "Not one person I called ever heard of InventHelp."

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