Google blocks ads from Trademark Terminal operator Abtach following USPTO action
- Google confirms to WTR that it has suspended Abtach’s ads account
- Pakistan-based company were target of USPTO show-cause order last year
- Abtach allegedly operates controversial low-cost trademark agencies
Dozens of allegedly fraudulent low-cost trademark filing websites have been blocked by Google from advertising on its global platform after a scathing USPTO show-cause order targeting Pakistan-based IT company Abtach, WTR can reveal. While concern remains that brand owners are being targeted by bad actors on Google, the search giant confirms that “many additional sites” have also been suspended.
Back in November 2021, the USPTO initiated one of the biggest anti-fraud crackdowns in its history with the publication of a strongly worded show-cause order to Pakistan-based company Abtach Ltd, the operator of numerous controversial low-cost trademark filing websites. The most prominent of these is Trademark Terminal, a platform that WTR first reported on in February 2021, with further evidence revealing that it was linked to unusual activity on thousands of US trademark applications and that a related entity allegedly defrauded one victim out of nearly $150,000.
The Abtach executives allegedly conducted “an egregious scheme to deceive and defraud applicants for federal trademark registrations by improperly altering official USPTO correspondence, overcharging application filing fees, misappropriating the USPTO’s trademarks, and impersonating the USPTO”. The order further reveals dozens of websites operated by Abtach, all of which claimed to be based in the United States (WTR has repeatedly highlighted that Trademark Terminal and its sister websites appeared to be based in Pakistan). The order confirms – using the office's own internal data – that trademark filings were submitted “from IP addresses corresponding to an internet service provider in Karachi, Pakistan”.
An issue raised in the USPTO order is how Abtach advertised “extensively via search engines”, with ads “touting falsely low fees and timeframes to register a trademark”. In some cases, Google ads would falsely claim the service is “endorsed by the USPTO”, with one example revealed in the order below:
WTR revealed how Abtach appeared to have spent thousands of dollars on Google Ads earlier in 2021. We found that common trademark-related search terms (such as ‘trademark registration’, ‘how to apply for a trademark’ and ‘file trademark’) sometimes featured results with paid-for ads from Abtach websites above the sites of official agencies and legitimate companies and firms. For example, one Google search result (see below) identified by WTR from mid-2021 featured two ads from Abtach-operated websites (Trademark Terminal and Trademark Falcon), one ad from another Pakistan-based company accused of fraud (USPTO Trademarks), and one ad from another accused of being a “scam” (Trademark Plus).
Of course, most paid ads on trademark-related Google searches are not related to suspicious platforms – with the leading advertisers for those relevant terms on Google in the United States being LegalZoom and Trademark Engine, two legitimate low-cost service providers. However, allegedly fraudulent entities have spent big on Google, with data finding that Trademark Terminal was – at its peak – spending an estimated $16,000 a month on hundreds of trademark-related keywords. Talking this week to WTR, The Ideas Law Firm managing partner Ryan Bethell said this advertising activity allowed Abtach (and other entities) to operate effectively. “I would imagine most, if not all victims first arrived at Abtach fraudulent websites via paid search,” he says. “Google was financially benefiting from those crimes, and they have certainly helped increase their signal.”
Positively, though, Google swung into action after the USPTO issued the show-cause order. In a comment to WTR, a Google spokesperson revealed that the company “blocked all ads for the sites listed in the USPTO's order the day after it was issued and continue to monitor for fraud and abuse in this space”, adding: “Google takes its responsibility as an advertising platform seriously and invests substantial resources in fighting fraud and abuse to protect consumers at scale. As a result of these efforts, we have suspended many additional sites engaged in similar behaviour."
It is understood the ad block is for all Google search platforms globally. The move comes at a time of increasing digital fraud, with the number of Google ad accounts being disabled for policy violations increasing by 70% in 2020 from 1 million to over 1.7 million (according to Google’s 2021 Ads Safety report).
Abtach-operated websites blocked by Google
The below websites are those listed in the USPTO's show-cause order as allegedly operated by Abtach and conducting fraudulent activities. It is understood this list has been used by Google in its ban on running ads on its global search engines.
- Trademark 999
- Trademark Axis
- Trademark Eminent
- Trademark Excel
- Trademark Falcon
- Trademark Fusion
- Trademark Kingdom
- Trademark Nation
- Trademark Regal
- Trademark Profs
- Trademark Target
- Trademark Terminal
- US Trademark Pros
- US Trademark Solutions
As well as low-cost trademark filing agencies, the USPTO listed the following digital platforms – mostly logo and website design agencies – that it claims are also owned by Abtach Ltd and are often used to provide trademark services:
While banning ads directing traffic to the websites listed by the USPTO is a good first step, Bethell says that more needs to be done. “It wouldn't be difficult to detect the virtually identical websites and ad copy these fraud entities are using, or the IP addresses they are coming from, and ban the new sites that are popping up too,” he claims, with concern raised at some current ads that use misleading terms commonly used by fraudulent entities. It is understood those ads have been reported (Google recommends that any ads from bad actors should be reported with objective evidence of fraud).
For now, a key element of Abtach’s allegedly fraudulent activity – the ability to reach victims via Google search – appeared to have been muted. Time will tell whether more websites will emerge to avoid the Google ban or if this suspension will be the death knell of such nefarious campaigns.