On 20 December 2017, the Swedish Court of Appeal sentenced four individuals to prison for a number of crimes relating to the issuing of fraudulent invoices to proprietors of European Union trade mark registrations. The fake invoices purported to be from ‘OMIH Trademarks and Designs Registrations Office’ – a name which would sound familiar to trade mark owners as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) was previously called the OHIM – Office for Harmonisation of the Internal Market. Hundreds of individuals in a number of countries fell victim to the crime, and the fraudsters at the centre of the scheme received sentences of up to four years and eight months for 355 counts of attempted and completed gross fraud.
In their summary of the decision, the EUIPO noted that “the sentence is at the higher end of the scale for gross fraud in Sweden”. Thus, the decision is punitive in nature and it will hopefully act as a deterrent to others from engaging in such acts of fraud. In addition, 74 claimants were awarded damages for the sums obtained by fraud plus interest.
It is worth noting that in an earlier ruling from a lower court on the matter, the Swedish District Court did not award damages to the victims of this crime. The District Court believed that the claimants should have known the invoices were fake and had possibly paid the invoices despite suspecting them of being fraudulent, for fear of missing a deadline. While the Court of Appeal rightfully reversed this decision (as well as increasing the prison sentences imposed), this section of the judgement highlights the importance for trade mark proprietors to act cautiously when they receive suspicious invoices.
Take note that the EUIPO does not correspond with trade mark proprietors directly where FRKelly is the agent on record for a trade mark, and any approaches purporting to be direct contact from the EUIPO, or invoices from anyone other than FRKelly on these matters, are likely to be fraudulent.
If you are suspicious of any invoices received in relation to your IP, or if you have any questions about approaches received from third parties, please contact us at FRKelly and we will be happy to check them out for you.
By Niamh Hall and Rachel Claire Brady