Beware of trademark scams

Trademark Law0 comments

A client recently received an invoice from a company that requested $1,420 for trademark registration. We’d just filed her trademark registration application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). She felt like it looked official, but her intuition was screaming, “SCAM!” so she reached out to me and asked, “Should I pay it?” I told her in no uncertain terms: NO. In this case, the invoice was from someone who offers a private “register” for trademarks.  

It’s essentially a private database where you can claim ownership of a trademark for other people to see.   But you don’t actually have a legal claim over that mark with a private “service” like this. Besides, this is literally what the USPTO does. (Plus, the USPTO grants you actual rights and protections for your trademark.) And just in case you’re wondering whether there’s an advantage to being listed in one of these private databases? There’s not. The USPTO has the only official database of registered and applied-for trademarks in the United States, and you don’t need to pay any additional fees to be listed. **Before we go any further: this post is legal education and information, not business, financial, or legal advice, and it doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship between us.  This is also an attorney communication under Rule 7.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California and Business and Professions Code Sections 6157-6159.2. Please chat with an attorney in your area to make sure you’re protecting your business.**

How scammers create trademark scams

Unfortunately, there are a lot of successful scams out there. And it’s not because people are gullible or naive. It’s because scammers have become very sophisticated. When you file an application, your mailing and email addresses become public record. So these private companies can easily get a hold of your personal information (like your mailing address) via your actual trademark registration applications… Which means these scams often look – and feel – completely legit. Another popular scam lately even involves spoofed “USPTO” phone calls. A spoofed call will actually say it’s from the USPTO, and it can be very difficult to tell whether or not the call is “official.”

Spotting a trademark scam

If you’re the victim of a scam via correspondence (physical mail or email):

  • You will likely see the words “US,” “Agency” or “Office” on the letterhead
  • Your application serial number or registration number may be referenced accurately
  • Your trademark name may be included 

But something should feel “off.” For instance, a name may be misspelled, or they may be asking you to pay a fee in a foreign currency, like Euros. Official USPTO correspondence will:

  • Say it’s from The United States Patent and Trademark Office
  • Come from their Alexandria, Virginia office
  • Or be a uspto.gov email address

If you’re the victim of a scam via phone call: Beware that it’s likely a trademark scam if they’re asking you to verify personal information or pay a fee over the phone. The USPTO will never ask for details like your social security number or credit card information over the phone.

If you spot a trademark scam

  1. Contact your attorney before you do anything else
  2. Visit the USPTO website to check for common scams
  3. Report it to the FTC

Most scams will ask you to pay a fee with the goal of tricking you into believing you somehow owe money to the USPTO.  There’s very little you can do about it once they actually have your money, so being proactive is key. And just because your trademark is already registered doesn’t mean you’re safe from these scams. Some private companies will attempt to submit filings or pay required maintenance fees for you – at an alarmingly inflated rate. Be a savvy trademark owner. Follow up with your attorney on any correspondence that doesn’t pass the gut check! And reach out if you need a trademark law specialist.    Want to keep Uncomplicating Trademarks for yourself? Get on the exclusive podcast list and start listening today.

I’m Nicole.

I understand both the legal world and the online business world and can bridge the gap for entrepreneurs that want to ensure all of their ducks are in a nice, neat row. Let’s protect your business so you can build your empire.

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