Intellectual Property Law Alert - Small Justice for Those Scammed by Fake Trademark Solicitations
Filing a federal trademark registration virtually guarantees that the trademark applicant will be the target of multiple scams. One reason is that the U.S. trademark filing system requires Applicant contact information, which then becomes publicly available on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. Scam artists can easily scrape this data and use it to send unsolicited, targeted communications seeking to dupe trademark owners into paying for a variety of fake services.
Finally, the United States has successfully prosecuted one of these scammers. In USA v. Suhorukovs, case number 6:20-cr-00210, in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, a federal judge sentenced Viktors Suhorukovs, 37, a citizen of Latvia, to four years in prison and approximately $4.5 million in restitution damages on September 15, 2021.
Suhorukovs’ scheme was a prototypical trademark scam: he culled information from the public USPTO database, then used that information to send mass solicitations for bogus services accompanied by official-looking documents. Mailings would include letters labeled “Patent and Trademark Office” and “Patent and Trademark Bureau” to mislead the recipients regarding the status of their trademarks. For example, the letters would warn that the trademarks were at risk of abandonment and that additional fees were needed urgently to renew the marks. The official-looking appearance of these fraudulent letters resulted in nearly 3,000 trademark holders being bilked out of hundreds and thousands of dollars each.
Unfortunately, Suhorukovs is just one of many, many scammers that prey on unsuspecting trademark holders. Similar scams target patent holders, usually focusing on false requests to pay maintenance fees.
The Suhorukovs case should serve as a reminder to business owners to be vigilant in the protection of their intellectual property. One of the simplest ways to do so is by consulting legal counsel experienced in the protection of intellectual property and licensed to practice before the USPTO. Good counsel will not only assist in the proper procurement of intellectual property rights but are an important stopgap between rightsholders and the scam artists.
If you have received a solicitation that you believe may be fraudulent, or if you have any questions about the protection of your intellectual property, including your trademarks, patents or copyrights, please reach out to the attorney listed below or the Aronberg Goldgehn attorney with whom you normally consult:
Matthew "Chip" De Preter
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