Huge numbers of Chinese citizens are seeking trademarks in the U.S., flooding the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with applications that officials say appear to be rife with false information. In February 2019, USPTO issued a warning to attorneys to beware of any foreign solicitation which offers to pay to use their information to file trademarks. The statement read:
“We’ve learned that U.S. attorneys are receiving emails from people in China and perhaps elsewhere, offering to pay to use their information in trademark filings. These solicitations appear to be an attempt to circumvent the proposed U.S.-counsel rulemaking.
Agreeing to such arrangements would likely be aiding the unauthorized practice of law and violating federal rules, including the USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct, 37 C.F.R. Part 11. Attorneys who violate these rules may receive discipline, including exclusion or suspension from practice before the USPTO, reprimand, censure, or probation. Attorneys disciplined by the USPTO may also be reciprocally disciplined by their state bar.”
The surge of filings from China has surprised the patent office. Officials say it could be fueled by cash subsidies that Chinese municipal governments are offering to citizens who register a trademark in a foreign country.
Trademark applications from China have grown more than 12-fold since 2013 and for fiscal 2017 totaled thousands more than the combined filings from Canada, Germany and the U.K. About one in every nine trademark applications reviewed by the U.S. agency is China-based, according to government data.
Patent and trademark officials say cash incentives could be a factor. As part of a national effort to ramp up intellectual-property ownership, China’s provincial governments are paying citizens hundreds of dollars in Chinese currency for each trademark registered in the U.S.
Many Chinese applicants list addresses in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, often referred to as the Silicon Valley of China. Shenzhen pays companies and individuals as much as roughly $800 for a U.S. registered trademark, according to the city’s intellectual-property bureau.
The U.S. officials say many China filings show a pattern of suspicious claims about the goods in question and the qualifications of the attorneys handling them.
“There’s been a dramatic increase on Chinese filings. A lot of [them] seem to be not legitimate,” the patent office’s trademarks commissioner, Mary Boney Denison, said at a Trademark Public Advisory Committee meeting last fall, according to a transcript.
Josh Gerben, a Washington, D.C., trademark lawyer, said fraudulent trademarks could cause costly delays for other filers if their names are too similar, a grounds for a refusal. “The significant number of fraudulent trademark filings being made from China is disrupting our trademark system,” he said.