Many patent owners have received unsolicited communications that at first glance appear to be “official” but are not actually from the USPTO. These communications usually contain warnings about the expiration of patents for failure to pay the maintenance fees of the patent. The communications often sound urgent, in hopes that recipients will be intimidated into paying the fees listed, which frequently include the cost to maintain the patent as well as a “service charge” for the third party’s trouble.
While maintenance fees must be paid three, seven, and 11 years after the patent issues, a patent owner can pay the fee without the assistance of a third party. In fact, the USPTO has made it possible for a patent owner to pay the fee online easily and securely. Further, if you need assistance with determining when maintenance fees are due, you can check online or contact the USPTO at the Inventor Assistance Center at 1-800-786-9199 for assistance.
Practice Tip: If you receive a letter or an email that you suspect may be deceptive, contact the USPTO via email or telephone at 571-272-8877. Additionally, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). The FTC will not resolve individual complaints, but they may initiate investigations and prosecutions based upon widespread complaints about particular companies and business practices.