|Are these the offices of The Trademark Office Ltd? This image comes from its website|
We are all well aware of the numerous scams by various organisations with seemingly official names and logos, such as OHMI Office for International Registration Trademarks and Designs and Community Trade Mark and Designs Limited, among others, that write to unsuspecting trade mark owners offering their trade mark and design renewal services under the guise of a reminder or invoice (see recent IPKat update, here). These activities and the perpetrators can be reported to the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) and are included on their various warning lists. The IPO has also confirmed previously that it was taking legal advice and had discussed these issues with Trading Standards but generally, other than issuing periodic warning notices to trade mark owners, we have seen little evidence of progress in preventing these scams (although if anyone has any further information regarding this, please do let us know…)
However, a recent case reminds us that we are also able to report the invoices and letters sent by these organisations to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for breaching the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code which lays down rules which advertisers must follow.
This most recent ASA Adjudication decision on the matter was handed down on 16 October 2013 (see update on the ASA website here). The direct mailing advertisements sent out by The Trademark Office Limited were held to be misleading as they implied that the mailings were official correspondence from an organisation with an affiliation to the Intellectual Property Office rather than being unsolicited mailings sent out by a private company. The ASA ordered The Trademark Office Limited not to issue the mailings in the same form again and also required it to amend the layout of future mailings to ensure they did not imply it was official correspondence or that it was affiliated to the IPO.
If the organisations reported to the ASA do not comply with its rulings (which the ASA will monitor), the ASA has various sanctions available to it (for example requiring serious offenders to have their marketing material vetted by CAP's industry members prior to publication). If an advertiser continues in its non-compliance, the ASA can refer the matter to the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT can issue legal proceedings for breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 which can ultimately lead to significant fines and even imprisonment in the worst cases.
It is fairly easy to make a complaint (you don’t need to be a consumer to do so). The ASA has a good track record of investigating the vast majority of complaints made to it, so it is worth considering if you/your clients are frustrated by the scammers. Of course the more reports made to the ASA, the better the chances are of keeping the number of scams low...