As a trainee patent attorney I am familiar with the phenomenon of 'fake invoices'. It is a problem virtually all our customers face. Recently, however, I got taken for a ride myself.
I received an email from a customer, which said: "I received this invoice for the publication of my PCT application and I have paid it." Oops! I could see straight away that it was a bogus invoice. But the thought that my customer had been swindled out of € 1,945, really shook me. Fortunately the person who sent it to me was only kidding. He had been sensible enough to ignore the message. However, he admitted that he had had some serious doubts, because it did look like a real invoice.
Unfortunately, things often turn out differently. The bogus invoices, occasionally including (copied) logos of official bodies, look professional and the awful thing is that what these people are doing is in fact 'legal'.
It certainly is! The fraudsters send you an 'offer' to publish your PCT application, for instance. If you pay the invoice, they do indeed publish your patent application in their own database. So they do deliver.
The crux of the matter is that the relevant organisation is going to publish your PCT application anyway. You do not need to do anything and most definitely do not need to pay anything extra for this. What's more: the fraudster will collect your data on the basis of this publication from the WIPO, for instance, and count himself lucky as a result.
What do you need remember?
- Stay alert for 18 months after your patent application was first submitted, so from the moment of publication. You will generally receive one or more bogus invoices immediately after your patent application has been published in the (public) register.
- Bogus invoices may not just relate to patent publications. Trademark and design registrations, which are also recorded in a (public) register, are also targeted by fraudsters.
- You can recognise a bogus invoice, by things such as:
- a short payment term;
- a 'threat' to the effect that you will lose your Intellectual Property Rights if you fail to pay promptly;
- a footnote which states that it concerns an 'offer';
- and that you may even be receiving a phone call to persuade you to pay.
- Be wary of all invoices that are NOT from your patent agency. In principle, you will not receive any invoices from other organisations in respect of your Intellectual Property.
- If in doubt, always contact your patent attorney.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has published a collection of bogus invoices from dubious parties on its website. If you have received an invoice from a party listed there, you can simply shred it. And finally, a personal request: please do not take your patent attorney for a ride!