February 20, 2008

Breathtaking Cupidity: This Month's PSA

One of the services I provide to my clients is assistance with trademark applications. The application process is not quite simple enough that a layman of average intelligence can do it right the first time, so some of my clients would rather not bother to learn how to do it and hire me instead. But once you've done a few, it's pretty easy and now I can get an application done online in a short, predictible amount of time. So while the fee charged by the USPTO for the application varies, I can charge a flat fee for my service.

Now, I have all the marks registered to my office. That's because I want to present the completed trademark (it comes in a nice cardstock folder with an official-looking Federal gold seal on the front) to the client and be a hero; and also because of stuff like what I got today. Once you register a trademark (or a patent, or a copyright) a bunch of "vendors" start sending you junk mail because the address is right there in a public record for anyone to see. They charge a fee for the "service" of informing you of things that the USPTO would inform you of anyway.

What's underhanded about this is that they all have official-sounding names for their businesses, like "United States Trademark Registry, Inc." or "International Trademark Clearinghouse Organization GmbH, North American Division." They make their junk mail and solicitations look like official government agency forms, although if you actually read them, you will see that they are really solicitations for services. Still, I can see where a lot of people would get these sorts of advertisements in the mail, be deceived into thinking that there are additional steps they need to take to protect their marks, and send money to these vultures. But today I saw one that really takes the cake; it appears to the left of this paragraph.

The sheer cupidity of the solicitation is breathtaking. At first glance, and even at second glance, it appears to suggest that my client's U.S. trademark will also be registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization (which is a real intergovernmental entity). If that were true, the service would actually have some value to some trademark holders, so that their marks are protected not just in the U.S. but in every WIPO nation (which is most of the countries a business would care about, except for China). I don't know that the amount of fee that is being charged (over $2,000) would be fair for this service but then again, I've never registered a trademark with WIPO (haven't needed to) so I wouldn't know if it's especially complex. But if you read the solicitation closely, you will see that the service that is actually offered is registry of your mark in this vendor's private database, which is published in book and CD-ROM form quarterly.

This is about the slickest "official" solicitation I've seen -- and the one asking the most money to provide a non-service. So while I've redacted out my client's identifying information, I've left the identity of the "vendor" ascertainable from the picture. If any of you get solicitations like this in the mail, read them carefully before sending money. Just because it looks official does not necessarily mean that it is so.

1 comment:

Arnie said...

The practice of using "offical"-looking documents is more wide-spread than this instance. Most of these advertisements seem to prey on the elderly, who tend to be more naive. The less than scrupulous advertisers tend to try and sell things associated with medicare, prescriptions, and warranties.