Scam Artists vs. Trade Marks and Domain Names

February 23, 2017

Trade Marks

As another month goes by, the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office releases another warning about a new scam involving intellectual property rights.

The latest scam involves individuals and business owners receiving phone calls from the “Trade Marks Intellectual Property Office” – a non-official entity. The caller will attempt to persuade the business owner to purchase a domain name which may or may not exist, but which may be said to be identical or similar to domains they own already, in order to prevent other interested parties from purchasing and using those domains. This scam artist will often follow-up with an invoice charging hundreds of euros for a “domain registration” which has not actually been purchased.

Hundreds of similar scam artists operate in the UK at one time. The best method of prevention? Awareness and advice.

Be aware that these scam artists exist and that they are often very good at what they do. Many scam artists invest a significant amount of time and effort in making their operations seem legitimate.

One common scam we hear of is when individuals receive a letter or other correspondence from an “official” intellectual property office requesting payment of a ‘registration fee’ or similar following publication of their trade mark. If the correspondence is not from the official intellectual property registry where your application has been made (UK Intellectual Property Office for UK rights and EU Intellectual Property Office for EU rights), it will more often than not be a scam, and you will not gain any registered protection in return for payment. In the UK and EU, official fees relating to registration are usually paid at the time of you submitting your trade mark and/or design application so no further amounts should be payable following filing (other than renewal fees, or fees due for amendments to the application, obviously).

Some additional fees will be payable in respect of patent applications following filing, generally due to patent applications having to go through more stages prior to registration than trade mark or design applications do. As such, we recommend being alive to the fact that the correspondence you receive may or may not be official correspondence. Oftentimes, telephoning the official intellectual property registry where your right was filed will confirm whether or not the communication you have received is an official communication or not. However, there is another easier option for you.

If you registered your intellectual property rights through a lawyer, that lawyer will usually be your official representative at the relevant intellectual property registry. All official (legitimate) correspondence relating to your registered rights will be sent from that registry to your representative, who will be able to review this correspondence and advise you in respect of the correspondence. Official registries should not contact you directly if you have an official representative recorded with the office.

If you are in doubt as to the legitimacy of any correspondence you receive relating to your intellectual property rights, or are interested in having us be your official representative (free of charge), why don’t you contact one of our experts? We’re friendly to talk to and give great advice.

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