Duane Morris is reporting on the prevalence of official-looking invoices that are actually patent- or trademark-related scams by private companies not affiliated with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). These companies obtain patent or trademark application and registration information from the USPTO's databases and then mail or email invoices to the owners, often using names that contain such terms as "U.S.," "Trademark," "Patent," "Registration," "Agency" or "Office." For examples of such invoices, see USPTO's announcement at http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/solicitation_warnings.jsp.

While maintenance requirements and fees are due during the term of a patent or trademark registration, owners of these patents or trademark registrations should be aware about ensuring that communications regarding these issues are from the USPTO or their legal counsel, and not from an unaffiliated company. The contents of these communications may concern services that are unnecessary or inadequate, and they may involve expensive fees that provide no rights or protection. It is important to note that all official correspondence from the USPTO will be from its office in Alexandria, Virginia, or from the domain "@uspto.gov."

It is also important to note that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) does not send paper invoices to brand owners who have registered their trademarks with the TMCH in connection with the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Any official-looking paper invoices regarding a TMCH registration are likely to be fraudulent. Instead, the TMCH will send all communications via email directly to the brand owner, or to whatever firm it has designated as its trademark agent for TMCH registrations.

Those unsure about the veracity of a solicitation can utilize the USPTO's website or seek legal counsel to check maintenance requirements of their trademark or patent. If owners of patents or trademark registrations receive a deceptive solicitation or invoice, they may also file an online consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/.