The requirements for registering trademarks, copyrights and business names can sometimes be puzzling. A variety of new scams are targeting people unfamiliar with the process by demanding payment for registering or renewing trademarks, copyrights or business names. Although any person or business might receive these notices electronically or in the mail, you are more likely to be targeted if you have a federal or state trademark registration or pending trademark application, because your name and mailing address are typically a matter of public record. You may also receive a fraudulent “notice” if your business is registered with a state corporations department. Although the notices look official and appear to be legitimate, they almost always are scams or solicitations for unnecessary services.
Most state and federal agencies do not mail invoices, so any notice that appears to be an invoice or indicating that payment is due should be treated as suspect. The United States Patent and Trademark Office, the only agency that registers and renews federal trademarks in the United States, does not mail invoices to those applying for or renewing trademarks. Likewise, only the United States Copyright Office processes United States copyright registrations, and does not mail invoices to copyright registrants. Although procedures for registering trademarks at the state level vary by state, most states do not mail invoices requesting payment for registering or renewing a state trademark.
Some fraudulent notices appear to relate to international trademark or copyright registrations. Unless you have applied for an international trademark or copyright registration, a notice related to registering or renewing a trademark or copyright in another country is probably not legitimate. A variation of this scam is a letter appearing to be from a foreign business asking for permission to use your trademark, copyright or business name in their country. While it is possible that a foreign company may request permission to use your name or logo, any genuine request would not be accompanied by a demand for payment.
A similar scam relates to registering or renewing your business’ status as a corporation, limited liability company or partnership. Although some state corporations departments mail renewal notices indicating that a renewal fee must be paid, most states do not. If you receive a notice requesting payment for renewing your business registration, take care to verify that the notice is legitimate.
If you receive any correspondence regarding a trademark, copyright or business registration, you should immediately forward a copy of the correspondence to your attorney to verify its authenticity. Scams like these are likely to grow in scale and scope, so consult with your attorney before responding to any unsolicited correspondence and before paying any invoices.