Technology, Fraud, and Old Fashioned Ideas

May 3, 2013

One of the ironies of the Information Age is that new technologies and concepts can often turn out to be older concepts in disguise. Tablet devices are a good example—not only does the concept date back to the slates used in one-room schoolhouses, but people often forget that prior to the iPad, earlier tablets failed in the marketplace. One unfortunate problem Axley has seen comes from fraudsters. Ironically, fraudsters are using one of our more long-standing technologies—old, safe and secure U.S. mail—to prey on persons registering trademarks.

With the growing recognition of the importance of intellectual property rights, more and more persons are registering trademarks. It appears, though, that unscrupulous persons have recognized trademark registrants may not be sophisticated. If you register a trademark, you can expect to receive some interesting mailings shortly after you file. You may receive bogus trademark “notices,” which on the surface appear to be from some kind of official agency, requesting payment of additional fees. Another common scam is a letter stating your trademark needs to be registered with various international agencies, usually in Asia or, less commonly, Europe.

Many of these mailings contain obvious indicia of fraud, such as misspellings, poor formatting, or improper English. Some, however, have a very official look. If you are in doubt about the authenticity of a mailing, you should consult an attorney. In general, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will correspond directly with a trademark registrant via e-mail, using the e-mail provided at the time of registration. Therefore, most mailings are usually fraudulent, but it is best to know for sure.

One should also be aware of the fact that not all mailings regarding intellectual property claims are fraudulent. One such example arises from patent rights. It is more and more common for businesses or even individuals to receive a letter containing a demand for purported “license fees” based on alleged patent infringement. In recent years, patent holders have become much more willing to go after smaller-scale infringers. There have been increasing occurrences of small- and medium-sized businesses receiving a letter claiming their use of network or printer devices, for example, infringes various patents. These claims are often defensible, and in many cases manufacturers have stepped up to resolve the issues on behalf of their end customers. Since patent litigation can be prohibitively expensive—and because disregarding the letters can result in lawsuits being filed against the business—the letters should not be ignored.

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