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Community Trade Mark Filing Service issue

Stocktaking on Community Trade Mark Filing Service issue (at the risk of boring readers)

May 24, 2009

I think it’s worth looking at what has happened here given the allegations of defamation.

It all started when I posted a tweet on Twitter mentioning that 3 clients had received CTMFS’ ‘invoices’. Ending with the word ‘scams’.

If Mr Evans’ intention was to stop the use of the word ‘scam’ in relation to the ‘pro forma invoices’ his company routinely sends out to UK trade mark applicants , then he would have had a more positive outcome had he sent an explanatory letter about his business model. No threats, just clarification.

Although, such an approach would not have changed my opinion about his business model, it would have alerted me of his sensitivity about the use of the word ‘scam’ to describe his business model. I would have then avoided upsetting him by using other words. After all, what is the word but a slang term to describe an activity which is misleading (Chambers defines it as a trick). He equates the word with ‘fraudulent and dishonest’. Well, to me these are semantics.

But I do wonder if I had tweeted as follows: Warning: 3 clients contacted us today about ‘invoices’ from CTMFS of Liverpool. Beware! whether he would have left me alone. Or would he rather have descended on me like a ton of bricks for that too? I suspect he would have done so but we will never know for sure. The fact that he has been so heavy handed over such a trifle is because he wants the world to believe that he is no different to any other provider of trade mark services, despite his dubious business model.

Is CTMFS any different?

We take a lot of trouble to educate our clients about ‘scams’ of various sorts involving the issuing of ‘invoices’ to those whose names are on the IPO’s or other official registers. We advise them to be alert and not make payment on such ‘invoices’ and to contact us if in doubt. The IPO also does its bit to educate the public, by routinely sending warning letters here . CTMFS falls within the second category of business the IPO describes as potentially to be alert to.

By opting for a business model which we and the IPO have to warn consumers against, CTMFS positions itself in the firing line. The obvious way for Mr Evans to distance himself from others who he presumably regards as real scammers (presumably, I imagine these would be people who take the money and run, and provide nothing at all in return, and who possibly cannot even be traced), would be to improve his marketing practices. Because really it is all a question of degree.

If he wants to be regarded in the same light as any other provider of trade mark services then why the misleading style of approach? Why use a name suggestive of a connection with an official body? Why send a ‘pro forma’ invoice which does not make it clear that in addition, there are official fees to pay on top of the ‘invoiced’ amount, (and spell out these will be 1050 Euros).

I had hoped the his change to his practice (see here) whereby he would be sending a covering letter along with his pro forma invoice, was suggested a step in the right direction. But, perhaps he would not now be pursuing me if he was intending to change his business model.

And if he won’t change the model, it is probably because too many people are mistakenly paying on the pro forma invoices, in the mistaken belief that it is an official sum that they are required to pay. Does he really expect us to believe that people receive his ‘invoices’ and think, “what a good idea, I can now get an EU trade mark, so let me immediately settle this invoice”.

Would the majority of consumers knowingly pay the £500+ fee? I don’t think many people would without at least first shopping around to find out how much others might charge and what they would offer? Would they think this was a fair sum to pay just to have an OHIM form completed using the identical information available on the UK IPO site which they themselves would have to forward to OHIM with payment of the official fees? And would they think paying 1050 Euros is fair enough, given that plenty of other providers would be able to file online for them for 150 Euros less, and in general far lower legal fees to do the work?  I doubt that consumers are in fact making a real choice to purchase CTMFS’ services, because it is a rip off price for what it offers – particularly given that no-one is overseeing their application through the examination and advertisement stage through to registration.

So, no I do not think I have defamed Mr Evans or his business, CTMFS. As they say if it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Even if our duck has a small sign saying “You can’t shoot me, because I am not really a duck – see small print for details”.