There has been a recent surge in telephone calls and emails from clients and members of the public who have received fake letters regarding their trade marks.
It seems a number of letters have been sent purporting to be from “PTMO”, the “Patent and Trade Mark Organisation”, a company who will renew your trade mark for NZ$1,295.00. While they will perhaps renew your trade mark, they change an inflated fee and the letter is designed to trick you into handing over extra money.
The Commerce Commission has warned this company in the past, but it seems they are continuing to approach New Zealand trade mark owners.
It can be difficult to spot a scam letter. Official organisations have functional names such as “Intellectual Property Office” which are commonly reduced to acronyms and can be easily imitated so as to deceive.
Moreover, most details about trade mark owners and their trade marks are freely available online through the various trade mark registers. This allows scammers to tailor letters to the individual “victim”.
Scammers will often put significant effort into their letters. For example, the recent scam letters have an address in North Harbour, and a local phone number, which makes the letter seem legitimate. Likewise, scam letters sent out in Australia might have an address in Sydney.
However, following some guidelines will help you spot a fake letter. A close examination of the fake letters will frequently uncover inconsistencies, oddities and mistakes. For example, in a recent fake letter regarding fees for a Madrid Protocol application the letter requests payment of the fee in Euros. However, all Madrid Protocol fees are in Swiss Francs. In other cases, the payment might be to a foreign bank account.
We note these are often details which may escape an applicant or owner. This emphasises the need to seek professional assistance if you have any concerns.
Tips for avoiding being scammed
Any correspondence request payment should be treated with caution and checked for authenticity prior to payment. If in doubt, confirm by phone.
If in doubt call your lawyer or IP professional. By having a lawyer or IP professional as your trade marks agent, any unsolicited correspondence from someone other than your agent will automatically be suspicious. An agent can also keep you informed as to key dates such as renewals.
Cross-check details such as organisation names and up-coming renewal dates with your own and official records. Ensure you confirm the full name of any official organisation rather than simply the acronym.
Read all letters received carefully. Fake letter frequently contain spelling and grammar errors.
With respect to New Zealand renewal requests, we recommend using Renewal Zone.
Renewal Zone is an online trade mark renewal service to assist people to renew their New Zealand trade marks quickly and affordably. You simply enter your IP number and Renewal Zone will tell you when your trade mark is due for renewal and the cost involved. You can then renew your trade mark through the site.
The site is linked to IPONZ’s trade mark register and is secure, up-to-date and reliable.
Renewal Zone can be found at www.renewalzone.co.nz.