Watch out for this Trademark Renewal Scam
Have you ever received a letter from the "Patent&Trademark Bureau" in Philadelphia? I received one recently. They wanted to charge me $925 to renew one of my trademarks. The letter looked real. It had the correct information for my business and for the trademark. It even had a graphic representation of the trademark and the serial number of the mark. And, to top the realism off, it had an official-looking barcode on the letter. But it's not for real. It's a scam, as in "a dishonest scheme, a fraud."
Reading the Fine Print
In the important information section, the fine print, of course, the company does represent itself honestly. This company admits that it is "a private business that is not endorsed by the U.S. government." It's just that many people don't read the fine print, or they think they must comply by sending the letter back and paying $950.
The "Patent&Trademark Bureau" did get one thing right. In order to maintain your trademark, you must re-register it every 5-6 years. But they got the amount wrong; the actual filing fee is $100.
How You Know a Letter is a Scam
1. Wrong Agency. The U.S. government agency that registers patents and trademarks is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (not Bureau). It's in Washington, D.C., not Philadelphia (but Philadelphia has a nice patriot sound, don't you think?).
2. Mistakes. The address is 1500 Market st, 12th Floor. In the "Important Information" section there is a poor sentence: "trademarks may be lost if they are failed to be renewed...." Typos, grammar, and spelling errors are common in this type of scam.
3. Wrong Link. If you enter the name "Patent&Trademark Bureau" into your search engine, you'll come to the website of a company (It's .com, not .gov). So you know it's not part of the federal government. There is little information on the site, only a few pages.
4. They Are Billing You Directly. The USPTO says,
"...fees required to maintain U.S. patents and trademark registrations must be paid directly to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)..."
Just to be clear, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office says,
"All official correspondence will be from the "United States Patent and Trademark Office" in Alexandria, VA, and if by e-mail, specifically from the domain "@uspto.gov."
This is just one example of the types of solicitations the USPTO is informed of. The USPTO says that it does not investigate these charges, but it does have information about some of the types of solicitations and businesses reported by consumers. The "Patent&Trademark Bureau" is on this list.
In case you were wondering how this company got my registration numbers and the logo, don't forget this information is in the USPTO database and anyone can search on the database of active trademarks.
Be wary if you receive any of these types of correspondence: offers of legal services or trademark monitoring services offers to record trademarks with U.S. Customers and Border Protection, and private registries for trademarks.
How to Keep Your Trademark Alive
To maintain your trademark, you must file a "Declaration of Continued Use," swearing (in writing) that the trademark is in common use commerce.
You must file the "Declaration of Use" between the 5th and 6th years after the registration date. Then the registration will continue until the 10-year mark. You must submit another "Declaration of Use" between the 9th and 10th year after the registration date, and keep submitting every 10 years.
The filing fee for this declaration is $100 for each class of goods or services in which the trademark is registered.
Specific information must be included in the declaration, and only someone who is properly authorized to sign on behalf of the company may sign the declaration.
File a Complaint
If you receive one of these solicitation letters and you want to file an online consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov.
Other scams and frauds against businesses to watch out for include business registration and trademark renewal scams and fake emails from the IRS.