In the movie, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) gets stabbed countless times by massive spears, knifed a few times, flipped completely over a couple times, and stepped and trampled upon.  He takes all of this with amazing equanimity.  But when his hair gets ruffled, he becomes furious and yells, “NOBODY MESSES WITH THE [hair] DO.”

Somebody is MESSING WITH MY DO.

Counterfeit drugs, money, razor blades, cigarettes, food, shoes, music, auto parts, software, purses, even fake Playboy bunnies.  None of that shocks anymore.

But today I just learned that there are those who take money to file trademarks in China and then simply run away.  A new client told me he had sent about $750 to what he thought was a legitimate China law firm to have his company’s brand name registered.  As soon as the first $750 hit Shanghai, he was asked to send an additional $600 to “cover the filing fees,” which he did.

A week later the website was down and the Shanghai “firm” was gone, “leaving no solid clues, nor trace, only a space in the lives of their friends.

Caveat emptor.

First time I had heard of anything like this.  Anyone else heard of such a thing?

UPDATE:  It turns out this scam is actually pretty common and it also turns out that in every case of which I am aware the scammers were neither licensed Chinese lawyers nor licensed Chinese trademark agents.  In other words, they are just people who run China trademark registration scams.

  • Dan

    I’ve never heard of this with law firms (although I’m not surprised.) This is common practice with many businesses in China. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a similar story regarding real estate developers. It’s like fraud is a sport.
    This is exactly why there are many foreigners in China that do business exclusively with other foreigners simply because they’re laowai. Sadly, there is an “us vs. them” mentality that leads laowai to beleive that it’s easier to trust other laowai. As a result, those laowai pay a premium just to feel comfortable when sizing up the guy on the other side of the table.
    Unfortunately, I can’t blame them for thinking this way.

  • risu

    I currently work at an IP Law firm in Hong Kong. I’ve heard of restaurants, karaoke bars, shops closing down then renameing themselves while maintaining the same address, staff, etc, but i have never heard of a hit-and-run law firm before.

  • Or one can just pirate the entire company: http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/27/business/nec.php 😉 NEC got “pirated” by a group of electronic vendors in southern China which manufactured products under NEC names and actually tap into the NEC’s supply chain there. The group actually make original designed products to fill the NEC product gaps in China such as MP3 players.

  • Dan —
    Thanks for checking in.
    I guess I should not have been so surprised. Many of them play the extra fee game as well, where the cost they give the client is simply for filling out one form, and then EVERYTHING else is extra.
    But, I do feel compelled to add that I personally have worked with many Chinese law firms that are COMPLETELY legitimate and honest.
    I guess it is like everything else: due dilingence required.

  • risu —
    Thanks for checking in. What you mention seems to be quite common in the electronics industry as well. The Chinese electronics company will place a few orders of electronics parts from overseas and build up credit. It will then place a big order, not pay, and re-form as a new company and start doing it again with someone else.
    Due diligence seems to be the buzzword of the day.
    I would bet that the people who did this trademark run and hide scheme are not a law firm and they almost certainly are not lawyers either.

  • Mr. Li —
    Thanks for checking in. I am dissappointed with myself for not remembering the NEC pirating because that is really the closest thing to what happened here. In NEC, we had an entirely fake NEC and here we have an entirely fake law firm. Just no need in this case to give it the name of an already existing law firm, or maybe they did. My client agreed to allow me to post on this, but he certainly was not in much of a mood to talk about it.

  • As one of my friend told his Guangdong supplier: “You Cantonese fake everything but your mama.” 😉

  • Doroto

    Seldom do i hear of such a case with a law firm, though not surprised.
    There are pitfalls everywell in the business world, this is not typical of China, though people can argue it does happen more frequently in China.
    The busniessmen have to be more cautious and more willing to hire good lawyers like our two hosts of this website. : )
    Don’t get frustrated, and be more sophysticated and then prosper!

  • Mr. Li —
    Thanks for checking in. I first read your post on my blackberry, without my reading glasses on, and I read it to say that there is fakery of everything but “your name.” I thought, no, because I have seen too many quick name changes to believe that. But apparently mothers are sacred everywhere.

  • Doroto —
    Thanks for checking in. Again, I must be clear that I do not think the scammers in this case were in fact a law firm; I think they were non-lawyers posing as a firm. You are exactly right that people must be careful. In the words of the late President Ronald Reagon, “Trust but verify.”

  • Now that is a law firm light on their feet

  • Mr. Webster —
    Thanks for checking in. I tend to agree, but again, probably not lawyers.

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    As a possible tonic for what ails a certain type of newly-arrived Westerner in China (by default, they “love China” and arrive pre-programmed with blind fascination about the “5000 years of culture,” and they are brimming with goodwill and open checkbooks (and perhaps sporting a small tattoo of a “mystical” Chinese character somewhere?), perhaps we should create a Chinalawblog book, or catalog, which could be used in the service of ‘shocking’ these types back into their sense. Would that work? We could start by compiling a database of all the stories we’ve heard over the years, first hand or not, of the dishonesty, cheating, double-dealing, lying, piracy, brilliantly-clever scamming, cutting corners off circles, outright theft, etc, which are a part of daily life here. We set up a sub-committee of members of this blog to compile, classify, and categorize every which way, and then we’ll publish the database on the web, perhaps with an elegantly-worded intro by Dan? I think it’s a worthy project.
    As an aside, I want to make it clear that I absolutely love it here (7th year) and am engaged as deeply as possible with my Chinese friends and colleagues. It would be wildly unfair to think this pervasive dishonesty is anyone’s “fault”; rather, it is a perfectly natural and logical result of the devastating Cultural Revolution followed soon after by the get-rich-at-all-costs ethos. (The suppression of religion didn’t help, either, I suspect.)
    Let me know if I can help with such a project. Would be fun.

  • Wesley

    This happened to me. I tried to save money on a couple of China trademarks and went with a Chinese company to have my trademarks registered in China. This company sent me a confirmation of the application. Only a few years later did I learn that they actually never applied for anything and that one of the two trademarks had actually already been taken for years. I had to start all over.

  • mkel

    Does anyone know if A & Finet International Patent & Law Office is legit? I recently received a letter notifying me of infringement of my Trademark rights in China… they have a whole site set up.

    • Olivier Beaujean

      don’t know, also received a letter, but I think it’s just a fake.