March 26, 2012
It seems that every few months my clients get a raft of notices from very “official” sounding business, like “United States Trademark Protection Agency” seeking payment for services that appear to be necessary to maintain a trademark application or registration. As technology improves speed and efficiency, more of these opportunists are appearing.
U.S. Trademark Applications & Registrations are Public Records.
Filing an application for U.S. trademark registration makes certain information publicly available in the U.S. Trademark Office records. Several companies have been scraping these records and generating “official looking” notices and even invoices to unsuspecting companies. These notices appear strikingly similar to governmental agency communications and direct you to pay fees for registration, monitoring (keeping an eye out for applications similar to yours) and for filing with domestic or international lists, directories, etc.
MANY OF THESE ARE SCAMS.
Despite claims otherwise, the United States Trademark Protection Agency (USTPA) is NOT a governmental agency and the U.S. Trademark Office (USPTO) web site even showed a warning that the USTPA is NOT affiliated with the USPTO.
Some companies charge fees to be listed in their worldwide trademark registration directories. These are not official filings, their usefulness is limited and they have no legal effect.
Other companies hire non-legal administrators to do trademark filings without proper supervision or training. These companies can prove very costly due to filing problems. I hope you are not confused by such mailings. Often, if you are represented by counsel, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office will not send mailings directly to you, they will be sent to your attorney of record. While some of these companies offer legitimate services, you should seek advice from legal counsel before utilizing them. Some examples of these companies include the following:
- Globus Edition S.L. in Spain
- Trademark Renewal Service in Washington, D.C.
- Company of Economic Publications Ltd. in Austria
- Edition The Marks KFT in Hungary
- United States Trademark Protection Agency located in Seattle, Washington
- Institute of Commerce for Industry, Trade, and Commerce located in Switzerland
- CPI (Company for Publications and Information Anstalt) in Liechtenstein (a phantom company which says it works with
- The Publication of Brand Names of the International Economy – another phantom company)
- IDM International Data Medium AnsbH in Liechtenstein
- S.A.R.L. – Societe pour Publications et Information located in Austria
- TMI Trademark Info Corporation located in Pearland, Texas
- ZDR – Datenregister GmbH in Germany
Many of these organizations send notices that look like invoices. I suggest that you not make payments without first consulting your attorney.
What is this case really about? Judge Colleen McMahon notes in her opinion that “this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters, or whether Kirby (and other freelance artists who created culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated ‘fairly’.” Rather this case is about “whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909, as interpreted by the courts.”
On Thursday, Judge McMahon ruled that the heirs of the late Jack Kirby, creator and co-creator of the well-known Marvel Comics superheroes such as Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk and more, have no legal claim to the copyrights of those characters.
Despite press efforts (including two pieces in the New York Times) to characterize the proceeding as “unfair” to the artists and creators upon whose labors companies profited, the decision reflects long-standing law that vests ownership of certain creative works in the company that commissions them as a “work-made-for-hire.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David M. Adler, Esq. is an attorney, author, educator, entrepreneur and partner at the boutique intellectual property, entertainment & media law firm LEAVENS, STRAND, GLOVER & ADLER, LLC based in Chicago, Illinois. My responsibilities include providing advice to business units and executives on copyright, trademark, ecommerce, software/IT, media & entertainment and issues associated with creating and commercializing innovations and creative content, drafting and negotiating contracts and licenses, advising on securities laws and corporate governance and managing outside counsel. Learn more about me here: http://www.ecommerceattorney.com and here: Leavens Strand Glover & Adler, LLC