Late in 2010, I decided to register a formal service mark for my company, ArdenTex, Inc. Registering a trademark or service mark is simple enough these days: You go to the appropriate web page of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, fill out some occasionally puzzling forms, send them in, pay the fee ($275.00 for filing electronically, as of this writing), and wait. Then wait some more.
If you’re willing to spend some time, you don’t need to hire a lawyer; you can do the job yourself. (I did.)
A few months later, the USPTO will get around to reviewing your application and, if it’s kosher, they’ll publish it in a huge document of proposed marks, allowing a 30-day challenge period. (Having searched through such a document for my mark, I picture paralegals or associates in various law offices being tasked with the dull job of reading every page, looking for possible conflicts with existing trademarks or service marks.)
If there are no challenges to your mark during the review period, the USPTO will grant the registration in another 45 days. At that point, you are free to put that little ® after your mark’s symbol or phrase.
Predictably there are all manner of shady firms out there attempting to turn this process into easy money.
I received notification from the USPTO last week that my registered service mark had been granted. Two days ago, I received two separate, slightly different, letters from some company in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. One (pictured) has “Patent Trademark Register” at the top, next to a portion of a United States flag. The other has the same flag logo, with “Register of International Patents and Trademarks” in a gothic font, at the top. Both appear to be from the same Slovakian company.
Both letters are deliberately styled to look invoices from official trademark-granting organizations. Each one bills my company for more than $2,600.00 US. At the bottom of both letters, in small print, is a paragraph with similar (but not identical) wording:
Dear madam, and sir,
the publishing of the public registration of your patent is the basis of our offer. We offer the registration of your Patent dates in our private Database. … Our offer will be accepted, wit the payment of the amount, and becomes a binding contract between you and ODM srl, is irrevocable an [sic] legally binding for one year. Please notice [sic] that this private registration hasn’t any connection with the publication of official registrations, and is not a registration by a government organization, and we haven’t any business relation yet. This offer for registration is not an invoice but a solicitation without obligation to pay, unless our offer is accepted.
Clearly, they’re hoping that some companies will just pay the “bill”, assuming that it’s official or necessary to secure their international trademark rights. Perhaps some companies even fall for both phony bills. (Bonus!)
In the US, the only entity that you must legally pay, to register your trademark or service mark, is the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You can safely ignore any purported “bill” from any other group.
Here are some other stories and web sites related to this kind of scam:
- Trademark scams (lowagie.com)
- Beware of trademark registry scams (WTN News, wistechnology.com)
- WARNING: Requests for Payment of Fees (A list of such scams, from the World Intellectual Property Organization)
- Avoiding Trademark and Domain Name Scams (from Smith & Hopen, a Florida law firm specializing in patents and trademarks)
These scams are common. “Read the fine print” and “Keep your bullshit detector plugged in” remain, as always, good advice.