When you file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), your mailing address and email address become public record. Unfortunately, this makes you a potential target for patent and trademark solicitations. A few of the solicitations may come from companies offering legitimate trademark related services, but many are sent by scammers looking to fool you into paying fees that aren’t required by the USPTO.
How the Scam Works
Shortly after you file your application with the USPTO, your mailbox and your inbox start filling up with solicitations. You receive letters and emails that look legitimate and claim to come from a “trademark office,” a “U.S. agency,” or even the USPTO itself. What’s more, they might contain accurate information, including your application serial number or your registration number. Scammers may send you invoices or letters that make it look like you are required by law to pay fees related to your trademark application, but these are often misleading.
Other companies offer to help you with the application process by submitting forms and handling communications, but not all of these companies have attorneys experienced in trademark law on hand. In addition, many such companies inflate filing fees above what the law actually requires. Other solicitations offer unnecessary services, such as registering your trademark in a private registry. Scammers hope that their official looking communications will trick you into paying fees for services you don’t need or worse yet, services that don’t exist.
How to Avoid Trademark Scams
- Review your application status regularly on the USPTO website. By checking the official website regularly, you’ll know for sure if you owe any fees or have any pending deadlines for responses during the application process.
- Check the domain name. If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, check the sender’s domain name. If it doesn’t end in “@uspto.gov,” it isn’t from the USPTO and you are under no obligation to reply.
- Check the return address. Official communications from USPTO will only come from the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia.
- Research trademark companies before you hire. If a company appears legitimate and you do need assistance with the application process, think twice before you hire. Research the company thoroughly and make sure an experienced trademark attorney will be overseeing the work. Remember, only an attorney can represent you before the USPTO; most companies can’t.
- Hire a trademark attorney. If you can, the USPTO highly recommends hiring a trademark attorney to assist you with the federal trademark registration process, which is in fact a legal proceeding. If you do, the USPTO will communicate solely with the attorney regarding deadlines, unresolved issues, and Office Actions, and you can safely disregard any solicitations you receive personally – or you can consult with your attorney about them. Even if you already applied on your own, you can still seek advice from a trademark attorney if you have any issues during the process.
- Understand that registries are optional. The USPTO has the only official database of federally registered and applied-for trademarks in the U.S. Once you’ve paid the application fee, your trademark is automatically listed in the database. You don’t need to pay fees to have it listed in the official database, and listing your trademark in other registries is entirely up to you. For Canadian business owners, begin your search at the Intellectual property and copyright webpage.
For More Information
For more tips for small business owners, see the BBB Small Business Resources page. If you’ve received misleading or dishonest solicitations about a trademark or patent application, you can file scam reports with the Federal Trade Commission and with BBB at BBB.org/ScamTracker. You can also report your experience directly to the USPTO by sending an email to TMFeedback@uspto.gov.
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