By: Sharon Urias, Esq.
You decide to start a new business. Congrats! You do all of the things you are supposed to do (the meticulous planning, research and set-up of your business entity and financial obligations) and, of course, you file one or more trademarks to protect your valuable business brand. Your application is accepted by the USPTO and you believe everything is in order.
Then, you receive a “formal notification” in the mail from what appears to be a governmental agency stating you have to pay certain, required fees for your trademark application. The notification looks real, confusing and perhaps a bit scary. It offers to maintain an annual registration for your trademark, to renew your trademark, to list your trademark on a private registry, and may warn of imminent deadlines, among other things. Nevertheless, the notification you have received is nothing more than a scam, a fraudulent solicitation often designed to defraud trademark applicants or newly-registered trademark owners.
The letters often have fake government seals and bar codes, case ID numbers, application numbers and dates, contain misleading legalese, and are sent by companies that resemble real, official governmental agencies by using terms in their company letterhead such as “Trademark and Patent,” “Organization,” “Compliance Office,” “Agency,” and “United States.” Often these letters and “invoices” imply the service they are offering is a requirement of the federal registration process. Unsuspecting trademark applicants and owners may be defrauded into paying thousands of dollars by complying with the terms of the letters.
How do these entities operate and how did they get your contact information? These entities extract information from the USPTO public databases and other online public records. From there, they target trademark applicants and/or owners through mass mailings. These scams are nothing new. But according to the USPTO, the scams are growing and are damaging the credibility of the whole system.
While the USPTO does what it can to warn trademark owners about these scams through various types of notifications, information provided on its website at https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/caution-misleading-notices, and by sending cease-and-desist letters to identifiable scam operators, experts insist that law enforcement groups (including the Department of Justice) and other regulatory groups are going to have to take on a greater role in fighting the operators of trademark scams to fully rid the system of this growing problem.
If you are a trademark applicant or owner and have received what you believe may be a fraudulent solicitation related to trademark registration services, you can contact the USPTO or an attorney to verify whether the notification is legitimate or fraudulent. At Greenspoon Marder, we assist our clients with every step of the trademark registration process and ensure they help them avoid being defrauded by these types of scams.