The scam appears to work as follows:
- the company identifies trade marks on the Australian Register that are coming due for renewal;
- it then sends a letter to the trade mark owner advising that the trade mark is about to expire, and offering to attend to renewal for a fee of A$1350.00 for one class, and a further A$650.00 for each additional class;
- if the trade mark owner signs and returns the letter, the company pays the renewal fees and sends out an invoice.
This is, therefore, an out-and-out scam, designed to dupe trade mark owners into paying excessive service fees in exchange for little, or no, additional service. But is it actually illegal?
IMMORAL? MAYBE. ILLEGAL? NO.We understand that the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA) is aware of this operation, however (aside from being a nuisance and trading without a registered business name) the Patent & Trademark Organisation does not appear to be doing anything illegal.
We have captured an example of one of their letters, which you can download here. The small print clearly indicates (if you read it carefully) that this is a reminder and an offer to provide a 'service', and not an invoice requiring payment. The organisation does not purport to have any official status, and the letter expressly mentions that the recipient is also free to contact its representative to assist with renewal. Australian telephone and fax contact numbers are provided, as well as an email address.
BE VIGILENTWe encourage all of our readers to remain on the lookout for these types of operations, and to spread the word in order to raise awareness. As we have written previously (here, here and here), scams of this type are becoming increasingly prevalent on a global basis and, since they are often perfectly legal, the only way to discourage their further spread is to starve them of funds.
There is no shortage of organisations offering legitimate monitoring and renewal services, with a range of different pricing structures commensurate with the level of service provided. There is no justification for any IP owner to pay top dollar for bargain basement service!