The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has issued guidance for identifying misleading invoices, and what customers should do in the event they receive one. The guidance comes as an increasing number of misleading invoices are received from companies requesting payment for trade mark, design and patent services.
The guidance covers what a misleading invoice is, and what customers should do in the event a misleading or scam invoice is received, specifically insisting that customers should not pay them, and instead to contact the IPO for assistance.
What is a misleading invoice?
Misleading invoices refers to unsolicited mail or fraudulent invoices. They are sent by unsolicited organisations, who are not associated with the IPO. Misleading invoices mainly target trade mark customers. These invoices may charge for a renewal monitoring service, or suggest a far wider protection of intellectual property, should the customer pay to be included upon a European or international register.
What the IPO advises
Do not pay them. These invoices could be a scam. If a customer is unsure about the invoice it has received, the IPO advises the customer to send a copy to email@example.com, and someone from the IPO team will respond. A customer can also report misleading invoices to Action Fraud, or the customer’s local Trading Standards office. For customers or representatives, who have received a misleading invoice, the IPO advises to make an Information Report to Action Fraud via the online reporting tool. For customers or representatives, who have paid a misleading invoice, the IPO advises to make a Crime Report to Action Fraud. In the event a misleading invoice has been paid, the IPO advises customers they are highly unlikely to their money back: organisations responsible for sending misleading invoices operate across borders, which makes any form of enforcement extremely difficult.
How do these organisations get my details?
The details of all trade mark applications are uploaded onto the public register within hours of receipt. Once a patent or design application is published, details are also made available online. This information is made available to third parties searching IPO registers. As part of the application process, applicants are asked to provide their name and address details. This information is a statutory requirement of each of the IP Acts.
Who are these misleading mail companies?
There are a variety of unsolicited organisations, who often use very misleading names. The IPO includes in its guidance a list of some of the current organisations that may send out bogus invoices:
It is common for these unsolicited organisations to change their names, and so the IPO advises customers that in the event they do not recognise the company, or if it is not included in the IPO’s list, to send a copy of the invoice to firstname.lastname@example.org. To assist, the IPO has included examples of redacted scam invoices (ODT, 1.04MB) that customers have received.
Source: the Intellectual Property Office.