“William, I have this guy on the phone from the trademark office who wants my credit card number. I’m conferencing you in….”

Those were the first words I heard when my client called me the other day. Moments later, I joined a call with my client and a very convincing “representative” of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) seeking money. Familiar with this ruse, I immediately told my client the call was a scam. Undeterred, the “USPTO representative” told my client to look at his phone where he could verify that the call was really from the USPTO. Of course, the “USPTO representative” had spoofed an actual USPTO phone number as part of the ruse and was playing the ace up his sleeve. But I too was undeterred and told my client to immediately hang up the phone. We got off the call, I called my client back, and then I congratulated him for spotting today’s hottest trademark scam: the spoofed call from the USPTO.

Scams targeting trademark owners have been around for the entire 25 years of my career.

Traditionally, the most common scam has been one where the trademark owner receives correspondence in the postal mail that seems official, such as from the “Patent and Trademark Office,” requesting payment of monies that appear to be due to obtain or maintain a trademark registration. Many of these solicitations are flat out bogus and provide the trademark owner with nothing, even upon payment of a fee. Other scams will publish a client’s trademark in a directory of trademarks that no one will ever read and that gives the trademark owner no rights.

More recently, the scammers have gotten bolder. While the fake letters are still sent in the mail, there are now fraudulent e-mails and text messages as well. Most concerning is that there has been a significant uptick in spoofed calls from fake USPTO representatives. These fake calls can happen at any time, but most typically occur within a couple of weeks after the filing of a new trademark application. Typically, the fake USPTO representative tells the trademark owner that there are additional filing fees due on the application, and if they are not paid urgently, the application will abandon and trademark rights will be lost.

Regarding these scams, here are some general things to be on the lookout for:

  • USPTO representatives will never request payment over the phone, via e-mail, or text;
  • The most common spoofed phone numbers are 571-272-1000 and 800-786-9199, both of which are associated with the USPTO headquarters;
  • USPTO website addresses end in .gov, not .us;
  • “Patent and Trademark Office,” Patent and Trademark Bureau,” “Trademark Compliance Center,” and “Trademark Compliance Office” are not part of the USPTO; and
  • There is almost always a demand for an immediate payment that is not actually due, with a threat of loss of rights if payment is not made.

We encourage clients to reach out to our intellectual property team if they receive any communication that pertains to their trademark and that is not from our office. We will review the communication to determine its legitimacy and advise the client accordingly.