On September 15, the Department of Justice announced that a Latvian national, Viktors Suhorukovs, had been sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay over $4.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to a scheme to defraud holders of United States trademark registrations. Evidence showed that Mr. Suhorukovs operated a limited liability company titled “Patent and Trademark Office, LLC” — a name that is misleadingly similar to the actual United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — for the purpose of sending sham trademark registration renewal notices to registrants. Once the victim signed and returned the renewal notice, Mr. Suhorukovs sent them an invoice for the renewal service and charged an inflated fee for trademark renewal. The victims would then send their “renewal fees” to Mr. Suhorukovs, thinking they were dealing with the USPTO. In total, almost 3,000 victims were identified.
This case illustrates an important lesson for trademark holders — beware of trademark scams, which an Alabama trademark lawyer explains in more detail below.
How Trademark Scammers Operate
One of the reasons why trademark scams are common is because trademark registrations are public information. This gives scammers easy access to the owner’s name and mailing address, which they can then use to send official-looking documents. Generally, the modus operandi of trademark scammers is to impersonate the USPTO for the purpose of extorting a fee from the victim or offering a service that is unnecessary. This can include:
- Fictitious fees
- Inflated fees
- Trademark renewal fees that are not due
- Listings in private trademark registries
Many of these companies use official-sounding names such as “Trademark and Patent Office,” “Patent & Trademark Office,” and “Patent & Trademark Agency,” and have their addresses in locations where the USPTO would be assumed to operate, such as Washington, DC, and Arlington, VA. All official correspondence from the USPTO will be mailed from the “United States Patent and Trademark Office” in Alexandria, Virginia, or emailed from an account ending “@uspto.gov.”
How to Identify a Trademark Scam
Scammers are a crafty lot and are constantly changing their tactics to ensnare new victims. However, there are a few red flags that you might be dealing with a trademark scammer, such as:
- The notice comes from an entity with a name that is similar, but not identical, to the actual USPTO
- The notice comes from a location other than Alexandria, VA, or from an email address that does not end in “@uspto.gov”
- The notice charges fees you have never paid before or fees that are higher than you have paid in the past
- The notice has typos or grammatical errors
- The notice arrives around the same time as a legitimate notice
- The tone of the notice is urgent or threatening
- The notice contains fine print indicating that it is a solicitation
Contact an Alabama Trademark Lawyer if You Have Further Concerns
If you have received a suspicious trademark-related notice demanding a fee, you should consider having an attorney look over it before you pay it. For more information, please contact an Alabama trademark lawyer at Adams IP by calling 251-289-9787 or by using our online contact form.