More than once, I have had a client happen to mention to me, “You know, I just got my approval paperwork for my patent from the USPTO, and now I’m receiving mail from the patent offices of countries all over the world wanting to help me secure a patent in their localities. How convenient!”
My immediate response is always, “Please tell me you didn’t give anyone money.”
The simple truth is that if you have recently applied to the USPTO for a trademark or patent, or are in the process of applying for an international PCT patent, then there is about a 0.00001% chance that another legitimate organization is going to contact you and attempt to assist you. However, there is an extremely high likelihood that a scammer masquerading as a seemingly legitimate organization will offer to register your IP in their locale in exchange for a hefty fee.
What do these patent and trademark scams look like?
Trademark and patent application scams have become so widespread that the World Intellectual Property Organization—the body which serves to simplify the process for protecting intellectual property around the world—has a page dedicated to such scams. If you visit the page, you can download PDF copies of fraudulent offers sent such organizations as the Intellectual Property Register Services, World Patent and Trademark Service, the IRO Intellectual Property Office, the International Trademark Monitoring Organization, and more. More samples of fraudulent and misleading invoices collected over the last decade can be found here.
While WIPO has published these as examples of what applicants seeking trademarks and patents in international countries have received, these are entirely typical of the sorts of scams that also target those who only interact with the USPTO.
While the appearance of these offers can vary widely, they generally all follow the same template:
- Sent by an organization you had not previously been in contact with
- Only 1 to 2 pages in length
- Directly solicits the payment of $1,000 to $3,000 fee
- Requests that payment be sent via wire transfer to a beneficiary in countries such as the Czech Republic, Cyprus, or the Slovak Republic
If you look carefully, you may find other details supporting the illegitimacy of the request, such as poor grammar, or the use of Gmail-based email addresses. The truly surprising thing is that if you closely examine the small print, the paperwork will more or less admit that it isn’t sent out by a government office.
For instance, in one example, the small print states that, “We offer the registration of your Trademark dates in our private Database” (emphasis added), and requests that the reader, “Please notice that this private registration hasn’t any connection with the publication of official registrations, and is not a registration by a government organization.”
In short, they’re telling you up front that this is just a random company offering to list your trademark on their website, and that it won’t actually afford your IP any legal protection whatsoever, anywhere.
How to ensure that trademark- and patent-related correspondence is legitimate.
Thankfully, there are several resources available online to help verify that correspondence, such as invoices, are authentic. Here are the most relevant such resources:
- Trademarks: Trademark Status & Document Retrieval (TSDR) System
- Patents: Patent Application Information Retrieval
- Copyright: Electronic Copyright Office (eCO)
- International Patents: ePCT
Bear in mind, it isn’t unusual to receive invoices from the USPTO for patent applications, but they are very rare for trademarks and copyright applications. So be on your toes, and always verify the legitimacy of everything. Do not contact the phone number on a piece of paperwork to determine whether it’s legitimate—obviously, a scammer will almost certainly not list the actual contact number for a legitimate organization.
If you’re feeling like you’re in over your head with a patent or trademark filing, the Law Office of Michael O’Brien can help. For more information, call us at (916) 760-8265, or send us a message using our contact form.