US trademark filings from China soar, prompting concerns over legitimacy

Data obtained by World Trademark Review has revealed a startling increase in trademark applications at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) originating in China.

The figures, compiled by CompuMark, show that US trademark applications from the country have skyrocketed. In 2012 there were just 3,400 filings from Chinese applicants; in 2017 (up to November 8) that figure was close to 50,000 – accounting for over 10% of all filings to the USPTO so far this year.

Despite this influx of filings, new Chinese applicants are largely bypassing traditional law firms, with smaller organisations responsible for thousands of applications. Of the top 25 USPTO trademark filings by correspondent location (for the year to November) at least nine entities have conducted filing work for Chinese applicants only.

However, concerns have been raised about the legitimacy of many applications. Speaking at the quarterly meeting of the USPTO’s Trademark Public Advisory Committee, Trademark Commissioner Mary Boney Denison reflected: “There has been a dramatic increase in Chinese filings which don’t appear [to be] legitimate. Many people are sending in fake specimens as part of applications; we are working on a suspicious specimens email box to help with this.”

Kristen McCallion, chair of Fish & Richardson’s copyright group, states that the problem is “pervasive enough that the USPTO should consider additional initiatives”, adding: “There are some measures that could be taken to help identify fake specimens when they are submitted to the USPTO, and also help in the implementation of protocols for the removal of the same: firstly, additional training and education for examiners to spot the common signs of fake specimens; secondly, utilising image recognition software to initially review submitted specimens to flag any filings with signs of them being fake; thirdly, imposing fees or sanctions against US attorneys that are knowingly (or negligently) submitting fake specimens; and finally, making it easier to report or flag applications suspected as fake, prompting further review.”

CompuMark’s Robert Reading concludes that a wider investigation needs to be considered as well. “The USPTO may want to look at applications in aggregate to identify patterns or unusual activity that might not be evident to an examiner looking at single applications at a time.”

Figure 1: USPTO trademark applications: applicant origin

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