Yesterday, I received a frantic e-mail from a client for whom my law firm had just filed a new trademark registration with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). It seems the client had received a letter from an organization identifying itself as “WTP”, which came in the form of a very serious looking invoice for her to pay $1,420 dollars for “Reproduction of Trademark”.
A “Trademark Publication” Letter from WTP
In the middle of this missive, was the drawing of the mark which we had submitted in the original Trademark Electronic Application System application.
The client was understandably concerned, as her startup had already paid the TEAS filing fees for two International Classes, not to mention my legal fees for the evaluation, preparation, and filing of the mark, and now she was being asked to part with an additional $1,400 bucks? As the kids like to say, “Aw, hell no…”
Is “Public Registration” of my trademark a thing?
Basically, no. These “Trademark Publication” letters which my clients frequently get (and, if you’ve recently filed for a trademark with the USPTO, you may have, too) are a joke and can belong in the circular file.
See, outfits like the esteemed WTP are actually “scraping” public databases like the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to generate fake notices designed to prey on the uninformed and the unwary.
WTP appears to be just the latest iteration of other questionable outfits that go by names that usually include the word “Trade” or “Register”, or some other official sounding acronym.
Although such notices promise to place your trademark in some type of database that’s very important sounding, I personally have never searched the “wtp-register.com” and am fairly certain none of my intellectual property attorney colleagues would waste valuable time doing so either, nor have I ever recommended anyone rely on such a “private database” (I am, of course, excluding legitimate, established professional search companies like, say, CompuMark [no endorsement or affiliation]), let alone actually pay to be included in one.
People don’t actually fall for this…do they?
Unfortunately, schemes like this are hardly unique and are not just confined to USPTO filings. I’ve received similar calls, e-mails, and questions (including from family members!) regarding their already approved or pending filings with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Fortunately, my client is highly educated and fairly sophisticated, so her first instinct to check with her attorney was the correct one.
However, just as I was typing this, I literally received a call from another client, for whom I had filed for registration of a different trademark around the same time as Client No. 1 above. Only, in this case, this client was actually thrilled to receive the notice, taking it to mean that approval of his registration would be occurring a lot faster than I had prepared him for. Ironically, as his new company had yet to order checks, he was actually calling to ask me not if this thing was legit or not but whether paying this by money order was acceptable. I think he was actually disappointed when I had to break the news. Keep in mind that Client No. 2 is a well-educated fellow and highly experienced businessman.
I’m actually glad Client No. 2 called with this question, because the wide difference in client reaction to this effectively identical WPT notice (even the amount was the same in both!) shows me how potent this garbage can be. While one client may have been puzzled enough to call me to complain about it, another might easily take the view that, “hey, $1,400 bucks to get my trademark approved? Tell me where to sign! Do you take Visa?” Ugh.
Shouldn’t these schemes be illegal?
I certainly believe so. Unfortunately, the USPTO does require a mailing address of the trademark applicant to be included in the TEAS application, so this information is readily available to scammers and less-than-honorable businesses.
While I am not saying letters like this are an outright scam, in this writer’s humble opinion, at the very least they walk right up to the line. Until the USPTO, Federal Trade Commission or Congress can crack down on these activities, there isn’t a whole lot that we as lawyers can do about it, unfortunately.
However, if you’re as angry and annoyed as we IP attorneys are about this nonsense, we ask you to write your state’s attorney general’s office, the FTC, and even your Congressperson.
Ben Bhandhusavee is the Managing Attorney for BHANDLAW, PLLC, a startup, technology, and e-commerce law practice advising founders and management teams on company startup, corporate and technology transactions, e-commerce, as well as Internet privacy concerns. The firm serves corporate and individual clients throughout Arizona, the United States, and internationally. Our offices are conveniently located along the Camelback corridor in Phoenix’s financial district. For more information about our Trademark & Copyright Law practice, feel free to reach out using the contact form on the right or call us at (602) 222-5542 to schedule a meeting. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn or Avvo.