Here’s the scenario: you recently filed a trademark application to register your mark with the USPTO and of course, paid the fee. Within weeks, you received a very official-looking correspondence from an organization that sounds strikingly similar to the USPTO, but something is not quite right. For starters, they are asking for more money, but you know you already paid the initial filing fee, and because you have not received a certificate of registration yet (which you know is months off), maintenance fees are still years away.
Have no fear-you are not alone, because you have just been targeted for a phishing-type scam perpetrated on recent trademark applicants throughout the world. In these scams, unscrupulous companies skirting legal boundaries use mailings bearing confusingly similar logos and seals to those used by trademark offices in an effort to coax unwitting consumers into paying for services they don’t need.
In late December, the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) issued an alert that an entity named the “World Intelligent Property Office” sent letters to owners of international registrations and their representatives soliciting various unwarranted fees. The logo of the fraudulent WIPO bears a striking similarity to the true WIPO logo. The USPTO issued its own warning on its website awhile back regarding the phenomenon, and listed many known offenders.
How Should Recent Trademark Registration Applicants Respond?
There are a few things you can do (and not do) if you receive one of these notices:
- DON’T RESPOND: The best thing to do is first determine that the communication is not credible, and if it is bogus, don’t respond. Above all, don't send money or credit card numbers. If your trademark was filed using the USPTO’s TEAS Plus system, then any trademark-related paper notifications you receive will likely be fraudulent because TEAS Plus usage is predicated on receiving “all communications concerning the application by e-mail during the pendency of the application.” Read all trademark-related mail carefully-all official correspondence should be from the “United States Patent and Trademark Office” in Alexandria, VA, or from the domain “@uspto.gov.”
- FILE A COMPLAINT WITH STATE OR FEDERAL AUTHORITIES: You can file an online consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), after which the FTC may institute an investigation and prosecution if the complaints about particular companies or business practices are widespread. You could also contact your state’s consumer protection authorities. However, neither the USPTO nor the FTC can help you on an individual basis if you were scammed.
- SIGN AN ONLINE PETITION: You can sign an online petition requesting “that the USPTO, with assistance from the Trademark Public Advisory Committee (‘TPAC’), renew and strengthen efforts to combat the ongoing epidemic of trademark related scams targeting trademark applicants and registrants.” The petition names several companies that have made these offers, stating that the “solicitations lack any true value, confuse those who receive them, collect money in return for a service of little or no benefit, and damage the integrity of the trademark registration system.” Any trademark owner who has been inconvenienced by unwanted solicitations should sign the petition.