Federal trademark owners beware. Scammers have a shameful practice of soliciting you for illegitimate services and fees. If you have a trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), or even a trademark application, you may be a target. The scammers find your contact and trademark information from publicly available sources – information you provide to the USPTO for registration applications and periodic maintenance filings – and they use it to generate false or, at best, misleading solicitations for trademark related “services.”
Here’s how the scam works. Most trademark filings with the USPTO include contact information for a designated contact person and an address for the owner of the trademark. Once the filing is submitted, the information provided is made available for the whole world to see. This is where the scam begins – having this public information, scammers know how to contact you directly and they know the details of the mark that you are trying to register or renew. Armed with this information, they then send you an email or letter dressed up to resemble an official notice from the USPTO. Thinking that you’ve received an official notice, and seeing that (allegedly) additional services and fees are required, you innocently pay the invoice…and they gotcha!
You may be wondering, why is this information publicly available? Besides being required by law to be publicly available, one main reason and benefit is that it helps well-meaning people search the USPTO registry in order to know whether a trademark is already taken or to check the status of an existing registration or application. But, unfortunately, scammers can also use this information as a slick way to take advantage of you.
For example, scammers use deceptive names like “Trademark Compliance Center, Alexandria, Virginia” (which is where the USPTO is located) or the “U.S. Trademark Compliance Office” (sounds official, right?). The “services” they offer can be pointless or overpriced. For example, they may offer to list your mark in a private trademark registry. However, the USPTO has the only official database of federal trademarks and your trademark is automatically listed there once you file with the USPTO. Another “service” they offer may be to renew your registration for you. But, the scammers’ fees are often much more than the actual flat fees charged by the USPTO, which are posted on the USPTO web site. So, be alert for illegitimate solicitations for trademark services.
Know this— all official correspondence will be from the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, and if by e-mail, specifically from the domain “@uspto.gov.” The USPTO cannot help you obtain a refund from these scammers, but if you have fallen prey to their tricks, you can file an on-line consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency. The FTC may institute investigations and prosecutions based on growing complaints about particular scams.
Watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Carefully read all trademark-related communications you receive and consult an attorney with knowledge of trademark laws for legal advice regarding filing an application and maintaining registrations that you own.
By: Brad S. Anderson