Intellectual Property, Technology, and the Law

IP Spam

Our accounting department recently sent me an email, asking for approval to pay an invoice relating to a patent application that we have. She named the company, which didn’t sound familiar. The scenario, however, was all-too familiar. I asked her to send me a copy of the invoice, but I had a pretty good idea of what it was before I received it. Here it is (with redactions):

You will note that it looks like an invoice, and our accounting department treated it as such, by stamping it (see green arrow) and forwarding it to me for approval. However, if you look closely, it is not an invoice at all. It is, in fact, an offer (see red arrow).

An offer to do what, you might ask?

“the publishing of the public registration of your patent is the basis of our offer. We offer the registration of your Patent dates in our private Database. The Registration describes the following date [sic]: Country code, publication number, filing number, publication date, international application number, international patent classification, inventor and applicant.”

So, in other words, they will register publicly available information, that anyone could find within minutes, in their own private database. And for only $2,686! What a bargain. Do you have any bridges to sell me as well? (BTW did people actually get scammed into buying bridges at some point in time?)

At this point, I should point out that this is not technically a scam, which according to Dictionary.com, is a form of fraud. It might be sneaky and annoying (I receive dozens of documents like these per year), but it’s (probably) legal. It is, after all, a mere offer, even if it is made to look like an invoice. That’s why this post is called “IP Spam.” Because that’s what it is to me — spam.

It doesn’t take much effort to imagine scenarios in which some companies pay the fees, thinking this is a legitimate invoice for services rendered. After all, none of us would receive spam in our inboxes if there weren’t a few people out there who fell for this sort of thing. Think about it — if postage for these documents is $1 per mailing, they only need one entity out of 2,686 to pay up in order to break even. And I’m sure the frequency is much higher, or else I wouldn’t receive so many of these notices.

The Lesson

I would think the lesson is obvious — be careful. If an invoice is from someone you don’t recognize, it probably isn’t legitimate. If you’re still not sure, check the various web sites addressing this issue. I have included some that I saw posted on the excellent “Patent and Intellectual Property Practitioners” LinkedIn Group:

(Note that the last link above includes links to actual examples of these types of schemes, and the companies who put them out there.)

Copyright 2011, Pav S. Athwal. All Rights Reserved.


10 responses to “IP Spam

  1. M. Andrew May 17 May 2011 at 03:00

    The problem appears to be quite abundant and that for years. The only thing is to be alert.

    The German Patent and Trademark Office also has a web site dedicated to this topics naming a few of the companies adopting this kind of scheme:


  2. Ilias 17 May 2011 at 10:14

    I keep getting them for years now. This is my reaction :). Of course, people are getting sucked in all the time. On the other hand people have to always remain vigilant.

  3. mike 17 May 2011 at 12:34

    The important thing is to educate your inventors, in house/outside counsel, as these companies send the form with various fees to each of the contact addresses associated with the file. I have had inventors receive them at their house and then come to ask me if they should pay the fee. Others, none of my inventors I hope, have paid the fee themselves thinking payment is required. They like to send it out with a shortened deadline to “rush” the payment decision. This has prompted me to push for using a “mailing” address for inventors that comes to docketing. We can then relay communications to the inventor where this option is available. The PCT and EP still ask for a “residence” address and try to contact the inventor directly for some communications (confirmation of inventor address).

    • ipmonster 17 May 2011 at 13:40

      Mike, thanks for the comment. I haven’t had inventors ask me about them… yet.

    • Rob 19 May 2011 at 10:46

      Actually you can give a c/- address on the EPO application form. They won’t ask for a residence address. We prefer to use the Applicant’s address (if it is a company). Other firms in Europe use the law firm address.

  4. Judith_IP 17 May 2011 at 12:59

    I do see these quite often, and similar ones for trademark filings as well.
    Please do forward them to the Post Office as it is considered postal fraud, which is a federal offense. https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx

  5. Ilias 17 May 2011 at 13:58

    Judith, if the mail was sent from let’s say Germany and the money was to be wired to Holland or even back to Germany there would have to be international reciprocal treaty for treating mail fraud. I guess maybe you can file fraud proceedings against the company in the US and maybe even apply RICO. You would need to have an extradition treaty in place to then ask German authorities to arrest the principles and then extradite. Hmmm, love to see how this develops.

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