US trademark applications from China have grown "more than 12-fold since 2013," totaling more than all filings from Canada, Germany, and the UK. What's behind this huge increase? "Cash incentives," writes The Wall Street Journal.
It turns out that Chinese municipal governments are offering cash subsidies to Chinese citizens who register a trademark in a foreign country. Chinese citizens can earn hundreds of dollars for every trademark they register in the United States. According to the WSJ, the Chinese city of Shenzhen (a/k/a "the Silicon Valley of China") pays up to about $800 for trademarks registered in the United States.
It has been suggested that some of these Chinese filings may not be legitimate because they contain potentially fake specimens, according to US Commissioner for Trademarks, Mary Boney Denison. At a Trademark Public Advisory Committee meeting last year Denison said:
"… one of the things that hits our examining attorneys on a daily basis is specimens, because people are sending in fake specimens. So, they're filing a (inaudible) spaced application and sending in a photograph of, say, some shoes with a tag on them. It looks like a great specimen until you see the same pair of shoes with the same shadow in the photograph 10 times filed by different applicants with different marks. And then you realize, gee, somebody's gaming the system. So, we have an examining attorney on detail full time to try to find these."
In one example shown, the USPTO highlighted four Chinese brands (Forlisea, Cinyifaan, Enjoysweety, and Gooket) that all used a photograph of identically designed zebra print pants in their trademark applications.
Josh Gerben, a Washington, DC, trademark lawyer, published on his firm's website: "The paramount concern is that these businesses are submitting convincing-looking specimens to the USPTO, claiming that they are selling products in the U.S. when little to no products are actually being sold." Gerben also points out the threat of increased costs for trademark registration and damage to the "integrity of the United States Trademark Register."
While the USPTO ramps up its investigation in potentially fraudulent filings from China, it is asking the public to report any they come across via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.