This article was written by the team at Zone Law and reproduced with their permission. Zone Law provides a full range of intellectual property and business law services, and are experts in complex and contentious commercial and intellectual property issues.
There has been a recent surge in telephone calls and emails from clients and members of the public who have received fake letters regarding their trade marks.
It seems a huge number of letters have been sent purporting to be from “TM Publisher”, a company who will publish your trade mark on their website, the “International Online Database of Registered Trade Marks”. While they will perhaps publish the mark somewhere, it is in fact a meaningless exercise that confers no rights or benefits, and is designed to trick you into handing over a fee for “publication”.
It can be difficult to spot a scam letter. Official organisations have functional names such as “Intellectual Property Office” which are commonly reduced to acronyms and can be easily imitated so as to deceive the uninitiated. Furthermore, most details about trade mark owners and their trade marks are freely available online through the various trade mark registers. This allows scammers to tailor letters to the individual “victim”.
Scammers will often put significant effort into their letters. For example, the recent scam letters have an address in Wellington, and an ANZ bank account number, which makes the letter seem legitimate. Likewise, scam letters sent out in Australia might have an address in Sydney.
However, following some guidelines will help you spot a fake letter. A close examination of the fake letters will frequently uncover inconsistencies, oddities and mistakes. For example, in a recent fake letter regarding fees for a Madrid Protocol application the letter requests payment of the fee in Euros. However, all Madrid Protocol fees are in Swiss Francs. In other cases, the payment might be to a foreign bank account. In this case, the phone number listed was clearly not a New Zealand phone number, despite the presence of other New Zealand details.
We note these are often details which may escape an applicant or owner. This emphasises the need to seek professional assistance if you have any concerns.
Tips for avoiding being scammed:
- Read all letters received carefully. Fake letters frequently contain spelling and grammar errors.
- Cross-check details such as organisation names and up-coming renewal dates with your own and official records. Ensure you confirm the full name of any official organisation rather than simply the acronym.
- If in doubt call your lawyer or IP professional. By having a lawyer or IP professional as your trade marks agent, any unsolicited correspondence from someone other than your agent will automatically be suspicious. An agent can also keep you informed as to key dates such as renewals.
- Any correspondence request payment should be treated with caution and checked for authenticity prior to payment. If in doubt, confirm by phone.
For more information, see www.zonelaw.co.nz