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Scams Targeting Intellectual Property Owners. Know What to Look for and Don’t Get Caught Out!

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By Carmen Wu and Louise Wolf

Properly registered intellectual property with IP Australia is a valuable asset. Registration involves the inclusion of your details on IP Australia’s public register. This provides a way for others to identify you as the owner of the asset on the public register.

However, the publicly available information on IP Australia’s website can also be used by scammers and fraudsters who seek to use such information to take advantage.

This article provides an outline of the different types of fraud, scams and deceptions that can occur, and how to protect yourself.

Types Of Fraud

The clever thing about these scams is that they will use some accurate information about your intellectual property, such as the registration date or a trade marked logo. This gives the impression that the documents are genuine and have been issued by IP Australia or a reputable law firm. Therein lies the trap!

1. Unsolicited Services

Some of our clients have received letters which appear to be sent from a law firm, advising that their intellectual property is due for renewal. Often, such letters are sent a year earlier than when trade mark is actually able to be renewed, a sneaky attempt to get ahead of IP Australia’s reminders (and ahead of the lawyers already acting for the trade mark owner). The ‘law firm’ will then offer their services for renewing the intellectual property on your behalf upon receiving a signed authority of their retainer agreement.

The deceit may arise from:

  • the renewal service fee being exorbitant;
  • the sender incorrectly advising that the renewal is due, when it may still be some time before it can actually be renewed; and/or
  • the sender issuing an invoice to you if they receive their signed retainer, with no intention of rendering the services once payment of the invoice is received.

2. Fake Invoices

This type of scam involves issuing a document that looks like an invoice. Fraudsters will often issue these documents when your registered intellectual property is almost due for renewal. Sometimes these types of invoices follow a letter such as the one described above. Sometimes they comes independently.

The document will contain phrases such as ‘renewal notice’ and ‘your registration is due to expire’ to give the impression that this is a genuine invoice for the renewal of your intellectual property registration. We’ve had clients who have been caught out and paid monies to such scammers and only later realised what has happened.

IP Australia is the responsible agency that governs intellectual property rights – do not pay invoices that have been issued by any other entity, unless they are your lawyer.

3. Alleging infringement of a registered trade mark or patent

In this situation, the fraudster will issue a document that appears to be a letter from a law firm.

The letter will state that your trade mark is infringing on another’s registered trade mark, and that you can continue to use the trade mark if you pay the author.

This type of fraud is intended to frighten the person receiving the document and deceive them into paying money as instructed without confirming whether there has been any infringement.

How To Avoid Being Defrauded

1. Read the fine print! These documents often contain words in small font that state that the author is not IP Australia, or that the document is not an invoice.

2. Contact the law firm that registered your intellectual property. They can advise you of:

a. whether the contents of the suspicious document is accurate – i.e. where the document alleges that you have infringed upon another registered trade mark;

b. whether the fee quoted reflects the market rate for this type of service.

3. Do not engage with documents that have been sent by entities that you are unfamiliar with.

4. Check the IP Australia website if you are suspicious of the document. The website lists companies that are known to be fraudulent and examples of fraud or misleading behaviour.

How MST Can Help

MST Lawyers can assist businesses and trade mark owners by registering and renewing trade marks, providing specialist advice about intellectual property and the trade mark registration process.

Please contact Louise Wolf from MST Lawyers’ Corporate and Commercial team on +613 8540 0273 or at louise.wolf@mst.com.au to discuss the assistance that you need.