In a previous blog post, I shared some tips to protect yourself from trademark scam letters, and unfortunately, the number of scammers continues to grow. That means you need to understand how these scams could affect you so you don’t spend unnecessary money or time thinking about them.
The Trademark Scam Letter
You filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You may have done this by yourself, using a legal document services provider, or with an intellectual property attorney. As the owner of the trademark listed on the trademark application, you’re now eligible to receive a very special letter (ha ha!).
I’m referring to a trademark scam letter. This letter could come in a number of forms—none more legitimate than the rest. Let’s take a look at some examples in more detail.
1. The Trademark Publication or Registration Letter
You’ve already registered your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so why would you receive a letter entitled Register of Protected Trademarks or Publication of Protected Trademarks on the Internet? The answer is simple. It’s a scam.
This type of letter is sent by a private company that claims they will register your trademark in some type of Internet Database. But there’s a problem. This database is not official or regulated or managed by any government entity. It is useless!
Your mark is already included in the official database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and will remain there for as long as the trademark is in use and you file the required maintenance documents. Anyone searching the database of marks pending or registered in the United States will use the official database located at www.uspto.gov, not a private database that only contains registrations of trademark owners who have paid them a listing fee.
Click on the image above or click here to see an example of this letter.
2. The Trademark Compliance Center or U.S. Customs and Border Protection Letter
This letter references the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the “U.S. Customers and Border Protection (a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security)” as well as a specific section of the Trademark Act. It must be official, right? Nope.
This type of letter is sent by a private company that claims it will register your trademark with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and notify you when infringing goods are detected. Unless you do business internationally, have your products manufactured overseas, and/or have a product that inspires knock-offs and counterfeits, this is probably a service you don’t need. Most small businesses do not fall into this category and do not need to pay to register their marks with the CBP.
Take a look at the real example by clicking on the image above or click here. Notice that the letter has multiple typos, including references to U.S. Customs and Border Protection as CBP and CPB.
3. The Trademark Safeguard or Monitoring Service Letter
There are a number of authentic trademark monitoring companies, but you won’t receive a letter like the one pictured to the left from any of them (click the image to view it at full size or click here).
Like Trademark Scam Letter #2 above, this scam letter references the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as a section of the Trademark Act, but again, the company that sent this letter is probably not one that you want to use to monitor your trademark.
Notice the $375 annual fee referenced in the letter? Now, read the fine print at the bottom of the letter. Take a look at the part that says, “Your 1 year subscription to TMSG services will be automatically renewed for successive periods of 1 year each unless you notify us to discontinue the service.” Bottom-line, this “service” is unnecessary and the automatic annual fee is a “red flag” indicating that the letter is a scam. If you want to monitor your trademark, you should research legitimate service providers and do your homework!
What Should You Do?
Any communications you receive related to your trademark registration that do not clearly come from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and bear its official seal can most likely be thrown in the garbage can. If you’re unsure, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or an intellectual property attorney and ask.
The only fees you will ever pay to the USPTO are official filing fees paid at the time an official filing is actually made, not professional service fees you would pay to an attorney or someone helping you prepare and file a trademark application.
You can find tips to determine whether a trademark-related letter is legitimate and what to do if you receive one here. Remember, official correspondence will come from the government—specifically, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia or via email from an address that ends with @uspto.gov.
If a communication is not from the official source, it’s likely a scam. In other words, a company is trying to make money off of trademark owners who don’t understand the trademark registration, protection, and enforcement process. Don’t be a victim!