The European Patent Office (EPO) has issued a warning to applicants regarding bogus invitations to pay publication or registration fees for European patents or patent applications. The EPO is aware that the number of such scam letters received by applicants has been steadily increasing. Similar warnings have also previously been issued by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
We are already aware of clients receiving fake letters or invoices in relation to patent, trade mark and design applications. The misleading letters typically request applicants to pay fees directly into fraudsters’ bank accounts, and often set very tight deadlines so that concerned applicants proceed to pay the fees without first discussing the letters with a professional representative. Many letters claim to issue from organisations which bear a confusing similarity to official bodies. Examples of such fake organisations include the “European Patent Service Register”, the “European Patent Portal” and the “Intellectual Property World Trade Organization”. Lists of example letters which should be ignored are maintained by the EPO, WIPO and the IPO.
We must emphasise that payment of fees to such fake organisations has no legal effect and does not lead to an enforceable intellectual property right. There are few circumstances in which any official intellectual property office would write directly to an applicant who is represented by a patent or trade mark attorney. Clients should therefore not hesitate in forwarding any unsolicited invoices to their attorney and should not make a payment until the veracity of the communication has been confirmed. Unrepresented applicants should also consider requesting professional advice from an attorney if they are unsure about any invoices received. It is also advisable to make accounting departments aware of this issue.
If you have any concerns about suspicious invoices, please do not hesitate to contact us.