USPTO fights trademark scams
Guest blog by David Gooder, Commissioner for Trademarks, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
At the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), our fundamental mission is to provide stable, reliable, and predictable intellectual property (IP) rights for those who receive a patent or a trademark registration. Over the years, the USPTO has developed systems to protect trademark owners and innovators from fraud, theft, and abuse from those intent on stealing their proprietary ideas, their designs, their brand identities, and their livelihoods.
One disturbing trend lately is the rise of fraudulent solicitations from so-called IP “experts” offering their services to assist owners of trademark applications and registrations at the USPTO. These solicitations often mislead owners into believing they are from the USPTO. Yet, the spurious offerings are either never performed or are botched, potentially putting a trademark application or registration at risk of failure. Often, these charlatans are charging inflated fees for bogus services. The scams target owners of U.S. trademarks from around the world.
Although the USPTO does not have the legal authority to sue or prosecute those who attempt to defraud our customers, or to stop private companies from sending trademark-related offers and notices, we are shining a spotlight on the issue to raise awareness in the community and do our part to fight back. As such, we are actively engaged where possible, with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).
In fact, in July 2017, we held a public roundtable to discuss how to combat these scams. As a result of this meeting, in 2018, the DOJ invited the USPTO to provide two IP attorneys to support the DOJ and the USPIS in a two-year “detailee” program as those agencies investigated and prosecuted offenders.
Our detailees assisted in several investigations, including one led by Homeland Security Investigations, in conjunction with USPIS that resulted in the recent arrest of an individual who allegedly defrauded trademark owners out of more than $1 million. The individual was offering bogus services that were falsely associated with the USPTO. The defendant allegedly sent solicitation letters under business names like “Patent and Trademark Office” from a Washington, D.C. address and from a non-existent “Patent and Trademark Bureau LLC” at a New York address. The case is currently pending in federal district court.
To further assist trademark owners, the USPTO posts a listing of third-party solicitations on the USPTO website from entities known for sending scams and offering misleading services and notices. The webpage provides trademark owners and those applying for trademarks with examples of recent fraudulent solicitations that have been the subject of complaints.
The USPTO warns customers about misleading solicitations at various points in the trademark registration and maintenance processes. For example, applicants are warned at the time when they receive confirmation of the filing of an application and when they receive a new registration certificate. In addition, representatives from the USPTO speak frequently on the topic at outreach events with counsel and business owners.
If you receive information from, or have been misled or paid money to one of these scammers, please file a consumer complaint with the FTC immediately. Do not discard the offer, the envelope, or the electronic message as it may be used to trace the source.
Additionally, if you receive a phony solicitation from a company that is not on our list of abusers, please email us at TMScams@uspto.gov. Include copies of the solicitation and, if applicable, the envelope it came in so we can assess whether to add the sender to the list. You do not need to notify us about firms that are already listed.
The USPTO is here to promote and protect the intellectual property of those who have worked so hard to create it. We want every person and company that has received a trademark registration to have the chance to be successful in the marketplace, hire workers, and create a more prosperous future for our country.