There is no greater feeling of reassurance for a business owner than that of the United States government legitimizing their claim to use a name in commerce. A federally registered trademark is often the key to expanding your business nationally, a critical step to becoming a major player in the global economy. It is exactly for this reason that there is no greater fear than the belief that you are not as protected as you think; and where there is blood in the water, there are bound to be sharks.
Those who have been in business long enough know that every other day is twenty new spam emails promising extraordinary rewards for “low cost.” This is especially true when it comes to trademarks because the vast majority of business owners fail to educate themselves in regards to the trademark process; this leaves them susceptible to con artists looking to make easy money at the expense of someone else. The most common form of trickery comes in an official looking email stating that in order to protect your trademark from infringing parties, you can pay a fee to such-and-such company and they will monitor all trademarks filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for those that may be confusingly similar to your proposed trademark.
Luckily, there are a few very simple rules that one can follow to ensure that they aren’t ensnared by a cunning con. The first rule, and probably the most important, is for individuals who use a law firm to assist them in the trademark process: if the email is not sent by the law firm that assisted you, consider sending it to your legal counsel for review. When you retain the services of a law firm, they become correspondent for your trademark; this means that any correspondence issued by the examining attorney at the USPTO should be sent to said law firm who in turn would contact you. As such, if you are receiving direct email, mail, or phone calls from any other company or institution, it’s possibly spam.
Obviously, if you have filed by yourself at the USPTO website or used another company that is not a law firm to assist you, then you may be the correspondent for your trademark application and the examining attorney will be contacting you directly. So the second tip you can use to protect yourself from a questionable offer is this: search for the company that sent you the email with the Better Business Bureau to see if it has a reputation among its users. The USPTO receives approximately five thousand trademark applications each week, so there is certainly a chance that a confusingly similar mark to yours may be filed at any given time. As such, a trademark monitoring service can be very beneficial to have, but only if the company is actually going to perform the work. Do your homework, search online for reputable companies that offer these services; a company that has shiny medals from the Better Business Bureau, news articles that pertain to it, or excellent reviews is going to broadcast that somewhere on their website because they know that is what educated business owners look for.
If all else fails, don’t bother with any non-USPTO solicitation for supplementary services and instead utilize the tools that have been made available to you by the USPTO on their website; all trademark applications filed with the USPTO become public information accessible via their online database. As such, there is a search option on their website that anyone can use to search for marks that have been applied for; just search for keywords that are in your trademark name or similar to it and voilà! Whether or not you do decide to monitor for infringing trademarks is up to you (the examining attorneys at the USPTO are pretty good at their job, FYI), but no matter what you do, just try not to feed the sharks!