Recently, there has been an increase in so-called "scams" involving apparent IP-related companies sending misleading letters to applicants and owners of IP rights in an attempt to extract money from those persons. A number of official intellectual property organisations, including the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), have recognized this issue and distributed warnings against these scams.
Often these scam letters take the appearance of invoices requesting the applicant/owner to pay for services that are essentially worthless. Examples include offers or invoices for registering patents or trade marks in international registers and offers for patent and trade mark monitoring services.
These companies obtain their targets' details from official registers where details of their patent, trade mark or application are published, often together with the applicant/owners personal details. The companies use e-mails, fake websites, faxes and telephone numbers to give the appearance of a legitimate IP-related organisation.
In a recent example, late last year, a Florida-based company had been found to have violated the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act by sending misleading invoices requesting payment for essentially worthless IP-related services. This company, trading as "Federated Institute for Patent and Trademark Registry", was found to have distributed misleading invoices to patent and trade mark applicants, including applicants of international Patent Cooperation Treaty patent applications.
This victory is a small step towards combating this deceptive practice. However, recently, WIPO has witnessed a rise in the number of IP related scams. IP Australia has also advised that they occasionally receive notification of similar instances.
To combat this issue, if you are an owner or applicant of a patent or trade mark, you should question correspondence from unfamiliar organisations offering services such as those mentioned above. Typically, the only organisations sending IP-related correspondence to applicants/owners of IP rights should be their legal representatives such as patent or trade mark attorneys, the official intellectual property offices such as WIPO and IP Australia, and Computer Patent Annuities (CPA), which is an organisation involved in managing renewal fees for patents and patent applications.
If you are unsure of the origin or intention of a certain piece of correspondence, particularly if that correspondence requests money, you should contact us to ascertain the legitimacy of the party concerned.
IP Australia and WIPO have issued lists of companies reported to have distributed unsolicited communications. The WIPO list also includes examples of the misleading correspondence sent by each listed organisation (http://www.wipo.int/pct/en/warning/pct_warning.htm)
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