The records of applications and registrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are publicly available, allowing individuals and companies to evaluate the registered trademark rights of third-parties. Unfortunately, these same records are also accessible by individuals for more sinister purposes, including sending “invoices” to applicants that appear to be official requests for required payments. While these scams have been occurring throughout the world for a number of years, New Zealand recently scored a significant win in the fight against these scams.
While most attorneys advise clients of the likelihood of receiving these notices, it does not prevent some unrepresented applicants from mistakenly making a payment. Thankfully, governments have begun to fight back against these scams. Over the last year, New Zealand has sought to obtain refunds from TM Publisher, an entity that sent misleading notices to companies in New Zealand. The company requested a payment of $1,600 NZ in order to “publish” an applicant’s trademark. Over the last six months, the New Zealand government identified and refunded more than $600,000 NZ from TM Publisher. While this is a large sum, TM Publisher is just one example of many scams, suggesting the number of payments could be even greater.
To provide some context in the U.S., it is common for applicants and registrants to receive misleading notices regarding publication, renewal, and other services. Some solicitations offer to publish your trademark in an international database, such as the Trademark Patent Publications solicitation, but doing so provides no benefit to the trademark owner. Other solicitations offer “renewal” services, which may or may not result in the actual renewal of your registration with the relevant authority. Most solicitations are printed to appear to be official, government notices. Some of the solicitations, like this notice, come from misleadingly named companies, like the “Patent and Trademark Office” in New York.
In the U.S., there have been criminal charges brought against individuals running at least one similar scam. The first indictment issued in October of 2015 and two more individuals were charged earlier in July 2016. The charges include bank fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering.
Notwithstanding these minor successes, there are still significant numbers of misleading notices sent to represented and unrepresented applicants and registrants. If you receive any notice regarding your trademark application or registration in the mail or in your e-mail, consult with your attorney. Although the Trademark Office has recently begun reminding owners of renewal deadlines, the Trademark Office does not request payment in these notices (especially through a wire to a bank account in the Czech Republic). If you don’t have an attorney, you can consult the USPTO’s information page regarding these invoices here or contact the Trademark Assistance Center.