Intellectual property is a valuable asset for any company or individual, and getting a patent or trademark application on file, and eventually granted, can be an exciting time. It is a paperwork-intensive process (notwithstanding that most U.S. filing is electronic these days), with lots of emails, notices, deadlines, and fees, to keep track of. Unscrupulous companies know this and take advantage of the publicly-available information from your patent or trademark filing, which can include company names, addresses, and e-mail addresses, to send ‘helpful’ reminders or payment due invoices requiring you to submit payment by a certain date to protect your patent or trademark. Many of these notices appear to come from legit sources, and often include the words “U.S.,” “patent,” “trademark,” or “office” in the name, such as this notice from the Trademark Registration & Monitoring Office. Other, less-alarming notices offer to publish your patent or trademark or provide some other supposed benefit, in exchange for a fee. Most of these services are neither useful, nor necessary.
Scrutinize notices closely for suspicious indicators, such as an invoice supposedly from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that requests payment in euro or bears a foreign address. Urgent or past due notices are another red flag. Some notices will actually indicate in the fine print that they are solicitations or unofficial.
If you are represented by counsel, and you receive a third party notice or invoice requesting payment, it is almost certainly a solicitation. Your best approach in this case is to forward a copy of the notice to your attorney for review. If you are not represented by counsel, you can contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office via email or telephone, or review their website for information regarding patent and trademark maintenance, including fees and timing. For more information, please see the resource page entitled Non-USPTO Solicitations.
Although the above information is specific to U.S. matters, similar scam communications can and do occur in foreign jurisdictions, including Canada, China, and the European Union. Again, your best defense is to forward any suspicious notices to your official legal counsel (in the U.S. or abroad) and request their assistance.