‘The public is not being protected’ – Trademark Terminal shifts USPTO strategy as concern over practice continues
- Concerns continue over low-cost trademark filing agency Trademark Terminal
- New reports in past month of clients seeking refunds and claims it is a ‘scam’
- Trademark Terminal (and related entities) files more than 200 new trademarks
Low-cost trademark filing agencies (including Trademark Terminal and Trademark Falcon) that have recently caused concerns at the USPTO appear to have shifted their strategy in recent weeks. A WTR investigation finds that the entities, some which are linked to a massive money laundering case in Pakistan, have filed over 200 applications in the past month – and appear to have made one significant change to their filing strategy.
As WTR reported last month, concern was raised by legal experts and clients over the practices of low-cost filing agency Trademark Terminal, as well as similar platforms including Trademark Axis, Trademark Falcon, Trademark Funnel and Trademark Regal. There are a number of factors indicating the entities are directly linked, such as similar websites and identical phone numbers and emails used on trademark applications. Further, they all offer to “register” a trademark in “7 minutes” for as little as $99 (screenshot comparison of prices and services), with evidence of even lower prices used on Google ads (screenshots here and here).
Unsurprisingly, low prices and high exposure on Google has resulted in significant take-up among consumers, with WTR identifying over 3,700 trademarks filed by these entities at the USPTO since mid-2019 – with most lodged in the past few months. However, concern has grown over the practices of these entities, with customers complaining online of alleged “scam” legal costs, evidence that representatives at the company are based overseas despite claiming to be located in the United States, and the inputting of incorrect application information.
Initially, concern centred on whether low-cost trademark agencies are causing problems for clients and flooding the USPTO with low quality applications. However, two weeks ago WTR revealed that one of the entities, Trademark Funnel, was named in a criminal case that has been described as “the biggest money laundering case in the history of Pakistan”. It alleges that a Karachi-based company called Digitonics Lab had been operating over 200 fraudulent websites that targeted international customers – with further evidence that Trademark Terminal and the other entities could also be related to the allegedly fraudulent company. The findings also led to legal experts calling on the USPTO to take action, such as setting up a task force to address the issues raised and help potential victims.
It has been just over a month since we first reported on concerns over Trademark Terminal (and the related entities). In that time, data collated by WTR and The Ideas Law Firm (which can be viewed in full here) reveals that they have filed 223 more applications at the USPTO (since 10 February). Most of the new filings have been from Trademark Terminal (97), Trademark Falcon (54) and Trademark Regal (50).
There has been one notable change on applications filed by Trademark Terminal. Previously, applications filed by the platform typically included its own generic email (eg, ‘[email protected]’) as the applicant’s personal email and its own office phone number (‘323-538-6018’) as the applicant’s phone number. Such a move is problematic because in February 2020, the USPTO introduced a requirement that all trademark applications must include the applicant’s own personal email address. Therefore, the use of the agency email has been leading to USPTO office actions (often multiple on a single application) requesting the applicant’s personal email information – and despite office actions requesting the applicant's personal email, Trademark Terminal representatives have usually ignored the request in follow-up responses or added another ‘@trademarkterminal’ email address. This has led to a series of application refusals.
Now, though, when requested by a USPTO examining attorney for an applicant’s personal email address, it appears that Trademark Terminal representatives are now adding an email address created on the Russian email platform Yandex. Each email is typically created using the applicant’s name (eg, applicant Chris Karazin has the email ‘[email protected]’), making it appear like personal emails. Examples include applications represented by Trademark Terminal for the terms TAKE IT OR WEAVE IT, RAPID CREDIT, CAROLINDICA, KTCA, AGR HANDMADE, THE PURPOSEFUL PLANNING PROCESS, POSITIVE MENTAL WEALTH, JADE LOVE, COMPASSIONATE CAREGIVERS, RAISE YOUR EXPECTATIONS, AMERICAN LIFESTYLE 48, and THE HAPPY ASS SHIRT CO.
The concern on the use of these Yandex emails is that they are misleading, contends The Ideas Law Firm managing partner Ryan Bethell. “I can't imagine more than a fraction of a single percent of US trademark applicants have a Yandex email address,” he states. “Most use Gmail, but Google is at least a theoretical risk to cooperate with US authorities in determining the ownership of the email accounts.”
Indeed, Bethell says the use of Yandex is probably not an indicator that Trademark Terminal (and the other entities) are based in Russia, but rather that they are most protected from legal authorities in the United States. “It is very unlikely that these Yandex emails are actually used by the applicant, and may not be subject to subpoenas to identify the contents of the emails, or the identities of those email account holders,” he notes.
Elsewhere, recent complaints and reviews have voiced frustration at Trademark Terminal (and the other entities), especially when it comes to receiving refunds or incorrect work. At the Better Business Bureau (BBB), one review from last month warns users to “stay away”, while a new review on ScamPulse claims “they are scammers” that “kept asking me for more money out of nowhere”. On Google Maps, numerous reviews in the past month call Trademark Terminal a “scam”, with one user claiming their trademark “was filed incorrectly” and then they were asked for $1,200 to fix it or risk losing everything.
Reflecting on these complaints, Bethell hopes the USPTO is planning some kind of action, but right now he says it is “difficult to say” if anything is being done. “It is my hope that the trademark office takes these allegations seriously enough to implement actual changes in policy, but those policy changes may not be visible to the public,” he explains. “So far, they haven't taken any measurable visible action as seen by the number of applications that continue to be filed by these agencies. Whatever the USPTO has done or plans to do, if anything, has not yet served to protect the public in any measurable way. Perhaps they have a more holistic method of addressing the problem that will take more time to implement, but it doesn't appear anything is being done right now to limit the harms caused by these agencies.”
WTR reached out to Trademark Terminal for clarification on the relationship between it and the other agencies mentioned in this article (as well as the entity linked to the criminal case in Pakistan). In a live chat on its website, a representative told us “no link and good luck ;)” before permanently blocking us from its chat function. Emails and phone calls have gone unanswered.