Trademark Monitoring Scam: Don’t get dooped
Frequently our clients will call us up and ask why the USPTO sent them a bill for a couple hundred dollars directly to their house. The clients will often notice we already charged them for the USPTO filing fees and ask why they are getting double billed. The first time I heard this from a client it invoked worry and confusion, now it simply serves a reminder of the plentitude of scam artists out there ready to take the money of the unwary or unsuspecting. Our clients generally don’t have any direct contact with the USPTO and it still tricks them, I can’t imagine how many self-filers this scam tricks into paying their “bill”.
So what is this scam? Various companies with names like “World Trademark Association”, “American Intellectual Property Coalition”, or any other official sounding name send what appears to be a bill to people who have filed an application or registered a trademark with the USPTO. While it may appear to be a bill, it is usually just an advertisement for the applicant or registrant to purchase trademark monitoring services. The small font, black print, long block paragraphs, boxed entry fields, and general ugliness of the form is exactly what you would expect to find on a government form, however, not a flyer for the sale of services.
While the deceptiveness of these forms range from slightly confusing to completely fraudulent, even some of our most savvy clients have come to us for confirmation about what exactly the mailing is about.
How can you avoid these scams? You generally can’t stop these scammers from sending you their junk, as the applicant’s address is included in all USPTO trademark applications. However, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is the only government agency that will contact you about your trademark registration or application; if the mailing is not from them then it’s not an official mailing and it’s certainly not a bill.
To be clear, while trademark monitoring services are not required for trademark registration, as some unscrupulous companies may have you believe, many of these services are not a scam. There are many legitimate companies out there that provide this service and it can be beneficial in protecting your marks. A trademark monitoring service will periodically search the USPTO database for any newly filed trademark applications that may infringe on your mark. These days they are mostly done by computer programs owned by the company offering the service. While the USPTO will generally reject any trademark applications it determines are “confusingly similar”, there may be instances where the USPTO has OKed and application that you wish to challenge. It is in these situations where a monitoring service is valuable.
If you’re interested in using this type of service shop around and be careful; most of these companies are not as highly regulated as a law firm and will disclaim liability if they make a mistake. As a general rule we advise clients not to purchase this service from a company that sends out deceptive advertisements.
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