On September 5, 2023, the USPTO announced in a Federal Register Notice that all non-attorney support staff would be required, beginning on January 20, 2024, to verify their identity to access the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Application System (“TEAS”). This follows multiple changes in July 2022 and October 2023 to the USPTO’s Trademark Verified USPTO.gov Account Agreement. On October 14, 2023, the USPTO announced it has made the verification services available to support staff.
Previously, without rulemaking, the USPTO suggested that there was a requirement for attorneys who had verified accounts to only sponsor those non-attorneys who worked for them (and not clients or foreign associates), and to perform some sort of verification of their staff— but did not provide any instruction, including for remote employees, contract paralegals, and the like.
The USPTO’s new notice, in providing purported background, discusses anecdotes regarding attorneys who allegedly sponsored others:
In one instance of abuse, an attorney sponsored more than 30 different accounts used by individuals not under their direct supervision, and perhaps not even personally known to the attorney. In another example, an attorney sponsored multiple accounts for use by non-attorney trademark preparation or filing entities, which are not authorized to practice law, file submissions for clients, or represent parties before the USPTO in trademark matters. Several of these accounts have also been connected to known scams that have defrauded many trademark applicants. Each of these behaviors violates the terms of the Agreement to which each of these attorneys consented. In addition, some law firms are creating institutional accounts that appear to be intended for use by multiple people under generic names such as “Admin Support.” This practice impedes the ability of the USPTO to maintain an accurate filing history and violates the Agreement, even if no improper activities are intended.
While the USPTO’s efforts can be commended, some of these steps are years too late. We implore the USPTO to focus on working with attorneys and foreign associates (as well as Amazon) to bridge the communication gap caused by the increase in filings related to Amazon Brand Registry. Until then, practitioners should be cautious regarding who they sponsor, and should likely go beyond the USPTO’s requirements and fully supervise them.