August's advice article
Identifying Non-USPTO Solicitations
Owners of U.S. patents and trademark registrations understand that there are maintenance requirements and fees due over the term of the patent or registration. Although fees required to maintain U.S. patents and trademark registrations must be paid directly to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), there are numerous companies unaffiliated with the USPTO that send solicitations to patent and trademark owners concerning maintenance requirements. The notices frequently appear to be an invoice and typically specify fees "due" that are higher than the official USPTO required fees.
These solicitations may look official because they contain information taken from public records available on the USPTO's databases. They often incorporate cautionary language such as "patent cancellation notice" or "important notification regarding your federal trademark." Some even include "U.S." or "United States" in the company name and letterhead, adding to their seemingly official appearance.
The USPTO has received numerous complaints from patent and trademark owners about these types of solicitations. Several recipients have indicated that they were misled by the notices and believed they actually came from the USPTO. Some recipients indicated they sent payment for the fees specified on the notices to the return address indicated on the notice.
You should note that all official correspondence concerning your U.S. patent or trademark will come from the "United States Patent and Trademark Office" in Alexandria, Va., 22313. If you are contacted by email, it will be from the domain "@uspto.gov." If you receive any notices concerning your U.S. patent or trademark that do not come from the USPTO's address, and you are asked to return payment to an address that is not the USPTO's, then you are dealing with a private company.
You can verify maintenance requirements for your patent or trademark registration and check if fees are due on the USPTO's website. The website offers a great deal of information about maintaining your patent. It also provides aportal that lets patent owners find out when maintenance fees are due by simply entering their application number or patent number. You can make required fee payments directly to the USPTO yourself or with the assistance of your lawyer or registered patent practitioner.
If you receive a solicitation concerning your patent or trademark that you believe is deceptive, you may file an online consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), at www.ftc.gov. While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints, as the nation's consumer protection agency, it may initiate investigations and prosecutions based on widespread complaints about particular companies or business practices.
You may also contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 571-272-8877 to notify us of any communications you believe to be misleading. Also, please contact us if you have any general questions regarding patent maintenance or trademark renewal fees.