Thursday, July 25, 2013

Latest Trademark Email Scams

Do you ever notice how scams seem to run in cycles?  One week you’ll get three offers for a pre-approved loan upon the payment of an upfront fee, and then a couple of weeks later, you win four different jackpots in the Swedish lottery.

The last few weeks, there has been a flutter of solicitation activity among our trademark clients.  These are interesting in that they don’t appear to be complete frauds.  They generally offer to perform legitimate services, although perhaps unnecessary or at inflated prices.  They typically come on official looking letterhead (or email-head) from an organization whose name includes “agency” or “office.”  They frequently – but not always – expressly state (usually in the small print) that the communication is a solicitation, and not an authorized communication of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  

Information regarding pending applications and registered trademarks is publicly available and easily accessed over the Internet.  Everything needed to identify and locate the trademark owner, identify the mark by its serial or registration number, and determine due dates for required maintenance and renewal filings is set forth at the USPTO’s web site (as well as the official sites of states and foreign countries).    This information is perfect for enterprising folk looking for easy money.  

There are the notices offering to register marks with U.S. Customs and Border Protection or private trademark listings or directories.  While recording a mark with the CBP may have some value to certain trademark owners, they are of little value to most businesses, and registration alone is generally not enough to prevent the importation of counterfeit or grey goods.  Since registered trademarks are already of public record, there is no apparent value in also having a separate commercial listing.

While there is little value in the services offered under these solicitations, there is little risk if the services are not actually performed.  That is not the case with solicitations to provide services in connection with required maintenance or renewal filings.  If those services are not actually performed, the trademark owner not only loses its money, but potentially risks losing its registration.   If those services are performed, there could still be problems with faulty specimens or inaccurate representations that might not be discovered until after it is too late to correct (for example, when challenged by a third party or upon attempting to file a subsequent renewal).

I don’t know of anyone using such a service, so I can’t say that any are outright scams (although the one claiming that renewals are due every five years – actually it is ten years – is highly suspect).  If any readers have had any experience with one of these organizations, I would be interested to know if the filings or recordations were actually made, and if made, whether there were any problems encountered in connection with the services.

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