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Beware IP Scams!

By Malcolm Pipes

There appears to be an uptick in the numbers of IP scams circulating around. A commonly encountered scam uses official-looking notices that claim to originate from governmental trademark and/or patent offices or legitimate vendors advising the recipient to pay fees in order to maintain their trademark and patent rights. However, in most cases, these notices are rather sophisticated scams or solicitations seeking payment for unnecessary services.

Domain Names

A frequent scam involves an email originating from a domain name registrar or IT consulting company based in China that purports to notify a trademark holder that another entity is seeking to register your trademark or business name as a domain name in China or some other locale in Asia (e.g., clientbrand.cn, clientbrand.hk, clientbrand.tw, etc.). Our firm was recently the target of such a scam, which typically starts with an email giving the mark owner a short time to apply for and secure the domain name for their own use. The email may even include a warning that someone else is applying to use your mark as a domain name. While perhaps not a scam per se, these notifications are essentially thinly veiled solicitations seeking your business to register your domain name. If you receive such a solicitation, you should consult us.

Trademark and Patent Services Scams

Another scam involves official looking documents received from an entity with a faux-government sounding name. For trademarks, these may take the form of official sounding organizations such as the “United States Trademark Agency” or the “Trademark Monitoring Service.” These notices often offer monitoring services to track the progress of your trademark application or third-party watch services, renewing a registration, or providing another related service such as obtaining or maintaining a registration, or recording your mark with a trademark “registry” or corporate names/marks database. All of these services require a fee.

These notices are not from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”). The PTO will never contact you soliciting fee, other than when a specific service is utilized. Similarly, notifications sent from trademark service companies that seek to provide prosecution services relating to pending trademark applications may be encountered. These notifications often contain alarming language about upcoming deadlines, and sometimes quote a (high and excessive) fee for handling the deadline on the client’s behalf.

While maintenance requirements and fees are due during the term of a patent or trademark registration, owners of these patents or trademark registrations should ensure communications regarding these issues are from the USPTO or their legal counsel, and not from an unaffiliated company. All official correspondence from the USPTO will be from its office in Alexandria, Virginia, or from the domain “@uspto.gov.”

For patents, there are reports of notices from the “Patent & Trademark Office Register of Patents,” that are essentially fraudulent invoices requesting payment of a “filing fee” to a bank located abroad. Please be aware that the US government typically uses the Treasury Department and WILL NEVER request sending funds to a foreign bank.

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