Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Advertising Standards Authority Adjudication on Trademark Office Ltd

Back in October 2013, the ASA published the result of an adjudication in which it came down as much like the proverbial ton of bricks on one of the leading producers of what I think it is fair to call misleading renewal notices: the adjudication is here. Unfortunately the ASA is not set up to do 'ton of bricks' very well, and it ends up being more like a couple of pounds of feathers, but even so ... Given that the respondent did not even take the trouble to reply to communications from the ASA, one cannot be optimistic about the chances of the parasites giving up, but I suppose that every little helps.

Two things might help more. First, the rogues use (on patent renewal 'notices') the designation 'Patent and Trademark Office'. (I pause to note that the American spelling of 'Trademark' ought to be a bit of a give-away, but will be lost on many people, who apart from anything else have for too long been exposed to far too much American 'culture' - like the contestant on Celebrity Mastermind the other day who referred to the London A-Z pronouncing the last letter 'zee'.) That includes the designation 'Patent Office' and to use that is an offence. If anyone thinks that perhaps the offence is not committed because other words are included, consider the efforts of the Architects Registration Board - and its prosecution of Ronald Baden Hellard, reported at (1998) 14 Const LJ 299. (The Court of Appeal accepted that using the affix RIBA amounted to using the style 'architect', although to be fair to the Court of Appeal there was little argument to persuade them otherwise.) Second, and this will require a change in the law which I acknowledge is as likely as an English winter without widespread flooding, as a consumer protection measure this sort of work needs to be reserved to the professions who will do it properly - and at far, far lower cost than the rip-off rates charged by the purveyors of confusing non-invoices.

There must also be an argument that they are committing a fraud, misrepresenting themselves to the inexpert or merely inattentive recipients. In which case the banking system should reject them as customers. I recently had no end of trouble when a bank with which I maintained an account detected suspicious activity on my account, to wit a payment from HMRC by way of a rebate of income tax. Unusual, perhaps, but suspicious? So why when my bank refuses to handle those funds are other banks (or perhaps even the same one) handling the proceeds of deceptive advertising?

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