For years, scam artists have targeted trademark owners with communications that mimic notices from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or other governmental entities.
Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for these fraudulent activities. The USPTO recently reported an uptick in these schemes, as well as a proliferation of new “tools” used to carry them out. Trademark owners should keep abreast of these ever-evolving schemes and pay particular attention to any communications they receive from any party (other than their attorney of record) regarding their registrations or applications.
Typically these scams are designed to instill fear in trademark owners and convince them to take some sort of immediate action. They warn (falsely) that the trademark owner has missed a filing or payment deadline or is at risk of losing trademark registration rights unless the owner executes a power of attorney or pays certain “official fees.”
To lull trademark owners into a false sense of security, these communications use official sounding names, such as the “Patent and Trademark Office,” the “Patent and Trademark Bureau” or the “Trademark Compliance Center.”
Victims of these schemes can find themselves out of pocket for significant sums or, in some cases, having authorized a third party to take action with respect to the owner’s registrations or pending trademark applications.
In the past, the scam artists focused primarily on hardcopy communications purporting to offer legal services, assistance with trademark filings and other services, such as recording trademarks in a “private registry.” Recently, however, efforts have shifted to email scams.
What to Watch Out For
Scam artists use a variety of tactics to make their emails appear to be official governmental communications. Owners of U.S. trademark registrations may receive emails that appear to originate from the USPTO’s domain, @uspto.gov.
In particular, the USPTO has warned owners to beware of messages that do the following:
- Spoof the USPTO email address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org);
- State that the USPTO has implemented “a new policy” requiring separate registration of clients and that there is a penalty for not complying; and
- Provide incorrect USPTO trademark filing information (e.g., incorrect fee information).
What to Do if You Receive a Communication
Do not respond directly to any communication about one of your trademark applications or registrations – even if the communication appears to originate from the USPTO – and never pay any fees or provide any information to sender of such a communication.
Read the fine print. Pay particular attention to the email domain of the author of the email.
If you have an attorney of record who filed your application and remains the attorney of record for your registration, contact the attorney and inform them of the communication. Your attorney will be able to determine if the communication is legitimate and if you need to take any action.
If you do not have an attorney of record and you have received a communication you believe is from the USPTO, you should confirm the validity of the communication by visiting the USPTO’s Trademark Status & Document Retrieval database. By entering the trademark application or registration number in the TSDR database, you can see all outgoing communications from the USPTO, except for the application filing receipt. If the letter or email you received does not appear in the TSDR file, it likely did not come from the USPTO.
Further, the USPTO also provides examples of solicitations from entities that are not affiliated with the USPTO, and a list of known scam artists.
By taking the above steps, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling prey to a scam.
If you have received one of these fraudulent emails or paid money in response to an email scam, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.