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Intellectual Property, Technology, and the Law
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.
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.