21 October 2021Trademarks

USPTO disciplines TM attorney over Chinese applications

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has taken disciplinary action against a US lawyer associated with thousands of suspicious trademark applications filed on behalf of a Chinese entity.

Earlier this year a report from the US Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General found the USPTO to be inefficient at preventing fraudulent or inaccurate trademark registrations. Publication of the report followed a proposal by the USPTO to amend the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 in a bid to improve the integrity of the trademark register.

The USPTO had previously blamed the exponential growth in trademarks filed in the US on subsidies of the Chinese government, with a particular factor driving the filing of trademark applications being parties seeking to register marks in bad faith.

It further suggested that the unprecedented surge in applications could be linked to suspected falsified applications from China.

Now, it appears that the USPTO has taken disciplinary action against a US lawyer who filed improper trademark applications on behalf of a China-based applicant, and the parties appear to have reached a resolution.

Robert Reading, director of government and content strategy, IP, at Clarivate, shared the news yesterday, alongside a link to the proposed settlement agreement.

In July 2019, US attorney Di Li agreed to review between 100 and 300 trademark applications per month for Seller Growth, a Chinese company that provides translation and consultancy services to online retailers. Li’s agreed fee was $10 per application.

In the settlement agreement, it is recorded that Li became aware of “suspicious specimen filings” in Seller Growth’s trademark applications around August 2019.

Li claimed to implement protocols to address this but accepted that there was still “a high level of poorer quality specimens being filed with the USPTO”—especially during September 2020, during which time 1,086 trademark applications were filed with improperly entered signatures.

During her collaboration with Seller Growth, Li’s name and improper signature appeared on more than 1,100 “suspect trademark applications” linked to the Chinese company. In total, Li is associated with more than 8,000 of Seller Growth’s trademark filings.

Li acknowledged that she agreed to allow Seller Growth to impermissibly enter her name on documents filed at the USPTO but maintained that she was unfamiliar with the USPTO signature requirements, one of which is that a signature must be personally entered.

The US attorney terminated the agreement with Seller Growth in February 2021. She expressed contrition for her lack of understanding of the relevant ethics and trademark rules and has fully complied with the investigation into her conduct.

Under the terms of the agreement, Li agreed to be publicly reprimanded and placed on probation by the USPTO for 12 months following the date of the approved agreement.

She is required to complete 12 hours of professional development covering legal education, professional responsibility, and trademark law, in addition to thoroughly reviewing specific guidance on the USPTO’s rules and procedures.

On a weekly basis during her probationary period, Li must search the USPTO’s trademark electronic search system to see whether there are any applications identifying her as the attorney of record. She must promptly inform the USPTO if any such filings appear that were not made by her.

Finally, the Official Gazette will publish a notice detailing Li’s public reprimand and probation.

Despite the disciplinary measures taken against Li, Clarivate’s Reading said that the USPTO does not appear to have taken action in respect of the potentially fraudulent trademark applications facilitated by the attorney. More than 7,500 of them have already been registered.

And, according to Reading, Li’s law firm Di Li Law has been named on approximately 3,000 US trademark applications for Chinese applicants since February 2021, when Li is said to have terminated her relationship with Seller Growth.

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More on this story

17 August 2021   The US Patent and Trademark Office is inefficient at preventing fraudulent or inaccurate trademark registrations, according to a report from the US Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General.
19 May 2021   Proposals by the US Patent and Trademark Office to amend the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 in a bid to improve the integrity of the trademark register have been criticised by lawyers.
30 August 2022   IP agencies filed applications in attorney’s name days after his death | Fictitious name also used is similar to living attorney in Illinois | False specimens of use submitted to “circumvent” USPTO rules.