CHICAGO (WLS) --The ABC7 I-Team is investigating complaints filed against a company that promises to help inventors, some who shell out thousands of dollars to make their business dreams a reality.
Not every inventor can make it on to ABC's "Shark Tank" - some people hire companies to help propel their inventions into the spotlight.
The I-Team found customers who say they paid one company thousands of dollars, but they say they were let down with the lack of results.
Yorkville business owner Deborah Randazzo invented a portable pet seat. She was so confident of the seat's success that she paid Invention Resource International nearly $10,000 to help her bring it to market. She says she's been calling the company for a refund ever since.
"It would be very nice if they would give me my money back," she said.
Randazzo says for that money, she got a binder with marketing research and product drawings.
She also received a one-year provisional patent and what she calls a "cheap" brochure full of mistakes.
"I'm still paying on this, even though it's five years down the road," she said.
That's right - she financed an upfront fee through the company.
Randazzo says that Invention Resource International didn't follow through on its written agreement by failing to complete her website or a "virtual prototype" of her product. She says that as far as she knows, the company didn't display anything at trade shows and didn't put her in touch with manufacturers.
Philip Yurcho in New York paid an upfront fee of almost $7,000, hoping to launch his Earth-friendly tree fertilizer.
"I was devastated, I was very depressed," Yurcho said. "The work that they did, I don't think they should've charged me more than a thousand dollars."
He too says there were several items in his agreement that were not completed.
The I-Team obtained documents from another disappointed customer, Wayne Steele, who paid almost $6,000 for the company to help him with a stocking cap for people with dreadlocks.
"Some of the complaints allege that after paying the advance fees that the company stops talking to them at a certain point," said Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau.
The Better Business Bureau says Invention Resource International has an "F" rating for 13 recent complaints nationwide, seven of which the business failed to respond to. The BBB says you should be cautious of any invention company requiring an upfront fee.
The I-Team went to two listed addresses for Invention Resource International in west suburban Oak Brook - both offices were shut down. Its website says its main offices are located in a Tempe, Ariz. mid-rise, but calls and emails were not returned.
Randazzo says she discovered that much of the work could be done on her own at fraction of the cost.
"We got our own design patent in less than a year for $250 and we hired someone to do our own website for us," she said. "My brother and I manufactured the product in one month."
Consumer experts agree, saying inventors can save by first researching the U.S. Patent Trademark website and hiring a patent attorney, and then finding potential manufacturers online.
After you get a patent, you can also find services which offer low-cost or even free websites for your invention, or make a free Facebook page.
The I-Team called and emailed Invention Resource International several times and also called a marketing firm that the BBB said represents them. They never got back to us.