The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) looks like it may have to put in some major overtime for the next couple of days. According to news from the Wall Street Journal, large numbers of entities based in China have been seeking trademark registrations in the US, catching the USPTO off guard and submerging them with applications that officials say are ubiquitous with false information.
USPTO officials believe that such an influx of trademark applications from China could be a result of cash subsidies, which can range to hundreds of dollars in Chinese currency, which are being offered by Chinese municipal governments, to their citizens who register a trademark in a foreign country. It seems that the Chinese government has commenced a national initiative to jump start intellectual-property ownership within the country, and so they are paying citizens for every trademark that gets registered in the U.S.
Since 2013, trademark applications from China have grown more than twelve times, and for the 2017 fiscal year, applications from China were thousands more than applications from Canada, Germany and the U.K. combined. According to government data, about one in every nine trademark applications reviewed by the USPTO is from China.
Several Chinese applicants have a common locale in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, which is sometimes referred to as the Chinese ‘Silicon Valley’. According to Shenzhen’s intellectual-property bureau, the city’s municipal government pays both individuals and companies up to roughly $800 (in U.S. currency) for a U.S. registered trademark. USPTO officials state that many of the filings from China show a pattern of suspicious claims about the goods in question, as well as suspicions about the qualifications of the attorneys that are filing the applications. In a transcript of a Trademark Public Advisory Committee meeting held in October 2017, Mary Boney Denison, the USPTO’s Trademarks Commissioner, mentioned that “[t]here’s been a dramatic increase on Chinese filings. A lot of [them] seem to be not legitimate.”
Some U.S. trademark attorneys are speaking out against such practices, such as Josh Gerben, a Washington, D.C., trademark lawyer, who stated that “[t]he significant number of fraudulent trademark filings being made from China is disrupting our trademark system.” Numerous Chinese merchants appear to be represented by foreign attorneys who are not licensed to practice law in the U.S., which violates the USPTO’s application rules.
It is unclear what actions, if any, the USPTO plans to take in response to this obvious overburdening of the trademark application system, but one can only hope that sooner rather than later, they will develop some way to combat China’s apparent quantity-approach to intellectual property fortification.