BREAKING NEWS ==================TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS=================== MARK TRADEMAN, TMIN NEWS ANCHOR:
Hello, everyone. Thanks for staying with us during our continuing coverage of SolicitationGate. We have more breaking news coming your way.
If you're just joining us, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has reported that numerous applicants and registrants (viewers just like you) have been solicited by companies using the public information of record in the USPTO database. I repeat: private companies not affiliated with the USPTO are using your trademark application and registration information to send you official-looking solicitations.
We'll discuss the specifics in a moment, but first, my interview with someone who received such solicitations: Sarah Thomas. In the interest of her privacy, she has asked that we not use her real name.
It was from this quiet street in Alexandria, Virginia that Sarah first filed a trademark application with the USPTO. As required by the application, she included her mailing address. And soon, her mailbox was stuffed with these. Solicitations. All from private companies not affiliated with the USPTO, all of them asking Sarah to pay money for various services.
Well, it was confusing. Because I had already paid fees to the USPTO and then these letters started coming in, asking me for additional fees. And I'm a small business. I couldn’t afford that.
So, what did you do?
Well, something just did not seem right. I mean, they looked official and all. It had my name, the application number, but the names and the fees just seemed off. It was registration companies or compliance companies and some even asked for money in Euros...
Well, did you respond to any of them?
No, no. I actually went on to the USPTO website and they have an entire page devoted to this, with examples and explanations to tell consumers to be aware of these types of solicitations.
That's right. The USPTO website shows real-world examples of solicitation letters. Now, some of these companies do offer legitimate services, but some of them try to mislead you into thinking that you're dealing with the USPTO and some of them try to mislead you into paying money that isn't required. Sarah's story, however, has a happy ending.
Well, I got my registration. And after I looked at the USPTO website, I learned that I did not need any of the services that were being offered in this letter. Rather, I learned that official communications from the USPTO will say “United States Patent and Trademark Office” and they’ll be sent from the Alexandria, Virginia address, or from an e-mail “@uspto.gov.” Otherwise, I can ignore them.
And now for some information you shouldn't ignore.
When you file a federal trademark application, your mailing address and email address become part of the public record. Private companies analyze the information in the USPTO database to send applicants and registrants solicitations for various trademark-related services.
The notices often look official. They appear as invoices and may require inflated or "past due" fees. Some of them even make it seem like the law requires you to pay these fees. The letters may refer to your trademark, your application serial number, or your registration number. They may contain "U.S.," "United States," "Office," or "Agency" in the company name and letterhead.
The USPTO is not sending these documents and you are not required to respond to them. You are only required to respond to documents and emails sent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Be aware, however. Not all solicitations are the same.
Some solicitations offer to provide legal services, such as assistance with responding to an official communication from the USPTO about your application. These services are often helpful, as the registration process is, in fact, a legal proceeding. So, before you sign up for any service, research the company and make sure that an attorney experienced in trademark law will be overseeing the work that is done for you.
Other solicitations offer assistance with filings that the law requires, but fail to disclose their own fee levels inside the offer. For example, once your mark is registered, the law requires that you submit registration maintenance and renewal documents and pay fees at certain times. Some solicitations offer to submit these documents for you, but inflate the true cost of filing by charging you fees that are higher than the law requires.
Information about these filings and fees and all the forms you need to make them are available on the USPTO.GOV website. While you can complete the forms yourself using the website, generally the USPTO recommends consulting with an experienced trademark attorney to help you with these (and other) filings. Remember that only an attorney may represent you before the Office. Most trademark filing, maintenance, and monitoring companies may not.
There are also solicitations for unnecessary services, like listing your trademark in a private trademark registry. While you may choose to sign up for these services, please be aware that the USPTO has the only official database of federally registered and applied-for trademarks in the United States. And once you've paid your USPTO application fee, your trademark is automatically listed in the public database; you do not need to pay additional fees to be listed.
So, to avoid confusion, be sure to read each document carefully before making a decision about whether to respond. The USPTO does not endorse any of these private services and you are not required to use the services they provide.
And note, as Sarah did, that all official correspondence about your application or registration will either be mailed from the "United States Patent and Trademark Office" in Alexandria, Virginia or emailed from "@uspto.gov."
If you receive a trademark-related solicitation that you believe may be a scam, you can file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: www.FTC.gov.
If you've been misled by one of these solicitations into paying money unnecessarily, the USPTO would like to know about it. Please e-mail TMFeedback@uspto.gov. You'll be asked to provide information about the exchange, including a copy of the solicitation.
Although the USPTO cannot refund any money paid (you need to contact the individual company for that or seek legal assistance), the information will help the USPTO raise public awareness of the issue. And it may prevent other trademark owners from making the same mistake.
For more information about these solicitations, and to see more examples of them, visit USPTO.GOV and pull up the "Non-USPTO Solicitations" web page. You'll see how official these documents can look.
You can also call the Trademark Assistance Center at 1-800-786-9199 for additional details.
In the meantime, stay safe, read carefully, and good luck... I'm Mark Trademan, Trademark Information Network.