In 2005, the Italian Antitrust Authority investigated a case in which a foreign company having a very important-sounding name solicited payment of a “fee” for the publication service of IP rights in an “official” register. The Italian Antitrust Authority eventually judged the initiative as misleading advertising and prohibited the further circulation of the respective communication.

Regrettably, from WIPO statistics it appears that such phenomenon has remarkably increased in recent years. In fact, while five cases were reported in 2009, over ten were reported in the first ten months of 2010, confirming an exponential growth of such unsolicited communications.

The increased availability of online IP databases, which can be freely accessed by anyone, has probably been one of the tools which allowed these companies to have easy access to the official data in order to contact the IP owners and propose their “service”.

As known, these letters normally appear to be official communications since they originate from entities using names and symbols similar to those of existing IP authorities like WIPO, OHIM or EPO, and since they identify the IP right involved by quoting its application or grant number, the publication date and other official data. Usually, the communications are sent in the form of payment vouchers or bank transfer slips, indicating the (normally considerable) cost of the “service”.

Although the entities sending these letters are in no way related to International IP Authorities, and although there is no obligation whatsoever to pay the fee (this last information is often specified in tiny characters), some IP owners do end up paying the requested fee, and this probably justifies the flourishing of new organizations offering such services.

IP authorities such as WIPO, OHIM, EPO and national Patent Offices are aware of the fraudulent nature of these initiatives and issue warnings in such concern on their websites or otherwise, but unfortunately have been unable – at least up to now – to eliminate or reduce the problem, as it is difficult to locate those responsible for the letters and institute legal proceedings against them.

However, since the phenomenon has more than quadruplicated in the last five years, it is hoped that it will be investigated and opposed again by the Italian Antitrust Authority and by homologous bodies in other countries, and that a solution will be found in order to protect IP owners from such scams.

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