What is fraud?
Fraud is dishonestly obtaining a benefit or causing a loss by deception or other means.
Fraud against us
Fraud committed against our agency can undermine the public's confidence in the Australian Government. We're dedicated to preventing fraud against us.
Our staff are expected to take their responsibilities as stewards of public funds seriously and make every effort to protect public money and property.
How we respond to fraud
We have controls in place to prevent and detect instances of fraud against us. If fraud occurs, we:
- Investigate the matter.
- Prosecute appropriately.
- Recover any losses.
Fraud against you
Unfortunately, some third parties could try to take advantage of you when applying for and managing your IP rights.
If you're impacted by fraud, it could:
- cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in unnecessary fees
- affect the renewal status of your intellectual property.
We've seen fraudulent claims sent to small business owners who've registered a business name and/or a domain name with the relevant authorities.
You could receive fraudulent advice that says your business name and/or domain name is infringing on a registered trade mark. These look like they've been sent from us or from legal firms.
Sometimes a registered trade mark, patent or plant breeders right is referred to in these letters.
You may be told that you can keep using your current name without any legal action being launched by the owners of the listed IP, if you:
- complete the application form
- pay the invoice.
We've noticed that most fraudulent claims are made through email. The emails:
How to report fraud
If you believe we've been fraudulent, or you've been impacted by fraud by a third party, you can report it to our Fraud Control Officer:
Fraud Control Officer
PO Box 200
Woden ACT 2606
We'll review your submission and get in touch to discuss your situation.
Other types of misleading behaviour
Whether you're applying for a new IP right or managing your existing right, you'll need to pay careful attention to invoices and service offerings to make sure you're not mislead.
Some customers find themselves the victim of dishonest or misleading behaviour from third parties, including:
- correspondence from unauthorised companies
- misleading or unauthorised invoices
- unnecessary services.
Be aware of unauthorised companies
We're aware of numerous unauthorised third party organisations that target Australian small businesses when it’s time to renew their IP rights. They tend to target trade mark, patent and some design owners.
If you're not certain that the company is legitimate, you can get in touch with us.
IP Australia, USPTO and other major IP jurisdictions have seen fraudulent claims sent to small business owners who have registered a business name and/or a domain name with the relevant authorities. These business owners receive fraudulent advice that appears to be from IP Australia or fake legal firms, saying their business name and/or domain name is infringing upon a registered trade mark. Some times a registered trade mark, plant breeders right or patent is referred to in these letters.
This correspondence contains an application form and fee invoice which it is claimed will allow the small business to keep using their current name without any legal action being launched by the owners of the listed intellectual property. Electronic communication via email is the main way this fraud takes place and the emails contain false and confusing information whilst looking and sounding official and associated with government departments such as IP Australia, auDA and the ACCC.
We keep a list of unauthorised companies reported to us by our customers. While it's a helpful reference, our list isn't comprehensive -- you should make sure that you're dealing with a legitimate company before accepting their services.
Companies known to send unofficial trade mark invoices
Here's the top three companies that have sent unofficial trade mark invoices:
- IP Office.
- Trademark Renewal Service.
- Goldman Rosenstain & Partners.
Companies known to send unofficial patent invoices
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) publishes a list of companies that use deceptive means to request unnecessary payments from applicants and agents applying under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
These companies aren't part of the International Bureau of WIPO or involved in the official processing of PCT applications.Companies known to WIPO
Look out for unsolicited invoices
At the end of each financial year, we receive many reports from Australian trade mark and patent owners who've been sent unofficial invoices. The invoices are often for renewals which aren't due for several years.
The companies sending these invoices access owner’s details by trawling through publicly accessible information. These companies aren't associated with us or another legitimate government agency. You don't need to pay them to use our services.
Examples of deceptive invoices
Be careful of non-official registers
We're aware of applicants being approached by companies to publish on their registers. Here's some that you should be aware of.
Publishing on a non-official register
There are some companies that claim to be official registers when they're not.
If you publish your patent or design with one of these non-official registers, or anywhere else, you could be at risk of invalidating your actual IP right.
If the non-official register, or other unsolicited company, publishes the patent or design before you've applied for it with us, we'll probably find it during our search and raise it as a reason not to certify your patent or design.
While the grace period may help with this, if the grace period doesn’t apply, then it's unlikely your patent or design will be certified and will cease.
Registering your trade mark on non-official register
You may receive an unsolicited invoice to add your trade mark to a register that appears to provide you with worldwide rights.
However, all this registration does is list your trade mark on a virtual list, that is public.
There are no rights or protections that come with this registration.
Here's an example from World Organisation for Trade Marks.
We're aware of many instances where applicants are invited to register their IP on a copyright register, usually for a fee.
In most cases this practice isn't necessarily illegal. There may be valid reasons for adding your patent or design on a copyright register. For example, it can give the creator a dated piece of evidence to show when they created the content.
It's important to know that there's no official copyright registration in Australia. Registering your IP on these registers can have serious repercussions for the validity of your patent or design right application.
Example — COPYRIGHT-AUSTRALIA.COM
COPYRIGHT-AUSTRALIA.COM offer notary deposit services and registration of copyright, including:
- protect a design
- protect an idea
- protect a logo.
For a fee you can register your copyright in documents and creative works. You'll be provided with a public notary timestamped certificate.
This copyright registration will place your design on the public record.
What does this mean for you?
Pre-publication of your IP means you might not be able to register your patent or design with us.
If you're unsure, it's a good idea to seek professional assistance.Get professional assistance
Avoid unnecessary overseas legal services
You might receive correspondence from an overseas lawyer or attorney firm that informs you that someone has applied to register your trade mark in another country. It usually includes an offer to provide services to oppose the registration.
It may be a legitimate service, but it's only relevant if you intend to use your trade mark in that particular country.
It's a good idea to seek legal advice before agreeing to work with these types of firms.
Check the source
It’s easy to mistake an unofficial invoice for a real one. Here's how to identify an unauthorised invoice.
Make sure it's an authorised invoice
Companies that issue invoices often sound as if they're an authorised IP authority, when they're not. For example, The Patent and Trademark Office Pty.
In some instances, the purpose of the payment and other facts are often buried in fine print. For example, ‘This renewal is optional’ and 'This is just a reminder' will appear in very small print, sometimes on the second page or back of the invoice.
Be wary of:
- an invoice with an inflated cost to renew your IP
- invoices that request payment for a renewal that isn't due now
- claims to protect your trademark on an international trade mark register, which has no official or legal standing for protection.
Check before you pay
Before you pay any invoices you should check:
- the renewal amount is correct for your type of IP right
- the list of companies known to send unofficial invoices
- that the invoice is from us or your trusted attorney or accountant.
What our invoices look like
- include our IP Australia logo in the top left hand corner
- include our right logos (trade marks, patents, designs rights and plant breeder's) in the top right hand corner
- are written in English with correct grammar and spelling
- include a 'Click to pay' hyperlink that lets you pay the invoice directly via online services
- include a warning at the bottom of trade mark invoices that warn about correspondence that isn't from us.
Here's an example of what our renewal notice will look like.
If you're in doubt, contact us.
Other steps you can take
If you’ve paid for a service that you didn’t receive, we encourage you to report it with the following organisations:
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
- the Department of Fair Trading in your home state or territory.
The ACCC has:
- guidance on how to protect yourself from unsolicited invoices
- details on where to get help if you receive an unofficial invoices.
The ACCC provides regular alerts on SCAMwatch to help you recognise, avoid and report unofficial invoices. We're a member of the SCAMwatch network and we work together on educating the public and customers on how to avoid fraudulent behaviour and misleading invoices.
Let us know
If you receive an unofficial invoice to renew your IP right from an unknown or suspicious business, let us know. This helps keep our list of unauthorised companies up to date, so others can avoid them.Contact us