Alarm as imitation USPTO website emerges, linked to suspicious filing platforms
- WTR identifies numerous new low-cost trademark filing websites
- One site revealed to be impersonating USPTO customer service platform
- Expert claims little being done to tackle scams targeting trademark users
WTR has identified a website that impersonates the USPTO’s Trademark Assistance Center, with links to trademark filing platforms based in Karachi, Pakistan.
The rise of suspicious filing platforms
The issue of fraudulent trademark filing websites targeting US-based small business owners was first reported on by WTR in February 2021, with details on the activities of the now-notorious Trademark Terminal. In subsequent months, that activity was linked thousands of US trademark applications and big money was being spent on Google Ads to promote the sites, usually with adverts containing misleading claims and promises.
Trademark Terminal was subsequently barred from further communication with the USPTO and had its accounts permanently deactivated when parent company Abtach was banned from practicing before the USPTO, with more than 3,000 of its trademark filings cancelled and its ads account blocked by Google.
Over the past two years, WTR has spoken to numerous victims of suspicious low-cost filing platforms– with most lured in by ‘too-good-to-be-true’ adverts on Google. For example, last year we spoke to one victim who was defrauded out of more than $100,000 after moving forward with promises of registered trademarks and patents. Earlier this year, we learned of an individual’s costly experience with a different platform that was spending an estimated $24,000 on Google ads per month.
The website (‘trademarkassistancecenter.com’) uses the text and international phone number of the USPTO’s own Trademark Assistance Center website. The only difference is the inclusion of an email address for “legal advice”, as the comparison below demonstrates (click to view full-size).
WTR has confirmed the website is unaffiliated and unauthorised by the USPTO.
The USPTO has been repeatedly the target of imitators. One suspicious filing platform (identified in February 2021) was hosted at the domain ‘usptotrademarks.com’, with a logo and colour scheme that mimicked the government agency. That website was operated by an entity in Karachi, Pakistan called Digitonics Labs, which was subsequently investigated by the Pakistan government’s Federal Investigation Agency for fraud and money laundering. Later, in July 2021, evidence emerged of forged USPTO documents and certificates being used by another Karachi-based IT firm, called Abtach. Six months later, Abtach was banned from practicing before the USPTO, with more than 3,000 of its trademark filings cancelled and its ads account blocked by Google.
An industry expert tells WTR that this latest site is “probably trying to get a high SEO ranking, and hoping to get leads from the email address they set up”. At present, the website currently sits third in Google search results for ‘trademark assistance center’, with the USPTO website the top result (click for screenshot).
Further research confirms the website was registered in November 2022 (with the owner hiding their identity using a WHOIS privacy service). The domain was last active in January 2014, with a web archive tool confirming that it had previously redirected to a now-defunct Las Vegas law firm called Mr Trademark.
The site appears to have links to an entity based in Karachi that has previously been identified as related to suspicious trademark filing websites. WHOIS analysis confirms that the ‘Trademark Assistance Center’ website is hosted on an IP server with 11 other websites, including ‘lawfultrademark.com’, ‘trademarkcanon.com’, and ‘protectmytm.com’. All those websites share near-identical templates.
The latter, ‘Protect My TM’, currently advertises on Google on various trademark-related keywords (including ‘registered trademark’, ‘trademark a name’, and ‘trademark registration’), spending an estimated $12,340 a month on Google Ads (according to industry tool SpyFu). The ads (an example can be viewed below) contain claims that have often been used by websites the USPTO has cautioned against, such as the promise of a ‘$45 trademark registration’.
On TrustPilot, a review from earlier this month alleges that representatives from ‘Protect My TM’ are “crooks”, “don’t return phone calls”, and “will rip you off”. Another review is positive, but it is actually praising another trademark filing platform, ‘Deputy Trademark’, which WTR reported on back in February.
Another website on the same server is ‘wedrivetech.com’, the website of a digital technology agency called TechDrive that claims on its website and LinkedIn to be based in New York. However, a screenshot taken by WTR in February 2023 reveals that the TechDrive LinkedIn page previously identified its location as Karachi, Pakistan. WTR has identified at least two employees of TechDrive that previously worked for Abtach (the Karachi-based entity recently banned from practicing before the USPTO) and at least one who previously worked for Digitonics Labs (the Karachi-based IT firm investigated for fraud and money laundering).
Outside of those linked to TechDrive, WTR has identified more filing platforms that share similarities with each other (such as near-identical pricing structures, a persistent ‘live chat’ function’, no identification of specific employees, and use of stock photos claiming to be staff) and appear connected. In most cases, the websites are hosted on the same servers, suggesting multiple websites being operated by a single entity. Examples on one server include ‘brandtradem.com’, ‘trademarkprism.com’, ‘trademarkloft.com’, ‘trademarkbuds.com’, ‘trademarkregion.com’, and ‘trademarkcluster.com’. with the latter spending approximately $4,111 a month on Google Ads, according to SpyFu (see a recent example of an advert below).
On another server, at least three low-cost filing websites are being hosted: ‘trademarkbulls.com’, ‘trademarknest.com’, ‘trademarkprodigy.com’. The latter is currently spending an estimated $1,572 a month on Google Ads on trademark-related keywords (according to SpyFu), with an example advert below.
These latest examples again highlight the array of low-cost filing offerings targeting potential applicants, with concerns that it is difficult for users to differentiate between legitimate and fraudulent entities. Talking to WTR, The Ideas Law Firm managing partner Ryan Bethell – a regular commentator on fraud at the USPTO – says that he sees little is being done to tackle the issue. “I haven't seen much in the way of anyone trying seriously to stop this,” he claims.
WTR contacted the USPTO about the impersonation website and the ongoing scam activity targeting business owners. We understand that the agency is taking measures to remove the site from Google search results.
At a recent webinar on trademark scams, the USPTO urged users to:
- Check the email or domain on websites, adverts or solicitations; legitimate domain names and emails from the USPTO always end in ‘.gov’.
- Use the ‘uspto.gov’ website for information and contact information of agency employees, including the Trademark Assistance Center;
- When reaching out to USPTO employees and business units directly, only use the contact information from the USPTO website;
- Be wary if asked to immediately take action, especially if a payment has been requested – USPTO employees will never ask for payment information, all fees are paid via the USPTO’s electronic filing system.