Federal lawsuit filed by patent firm alleges, inter alia, that nonlawyer LegalZoom employees engaged in UPL on trademark applications

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent California federal lawsuit filed by Legalforce law firm which alleges, among other things, that nonlawyers at LegalZoom engaged in the practice of law on trademark applications.  The case style is Legalforce RAPC Worldwide, P.C.et al v. LegalZoom.com, Inc., et al, Case No. 5:17-cv-07194-NC (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California-San Jose Division).  The Complaint is here: https://www.scribd.com/document/367565873/Complaint-LegalForce-RAPC-v-LegalZoom

The lawsuit was filed in the California Northern District Court on December 19, 2017 by Legalforce, which states that it is “the largest law firm filer of trademarks before the USPTO in each of the last 5 years”.  The Complaint alleges that LegalZoom has engaged in “unauthorized practice of law, false advertising, unfair competition and other claims with respect to preparation and filing of trademark applications” before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the State Bars of Arizona, California and Texas are also named as defendants.

The lawsuit claims that the plaintiffs applied for two trademarks through LegalZoom and that the services provided constitute the practice of law. The complaint states that LegalZoom “trademark document specialists” who were not lawyers “provided legal advice to the plaintiffs by selecting classification and modifying the goods and services description from the template thereby applying specific law to facts.” The plaintiffs state that they recorded and transcribed relevant conversations with LegalZoom employees.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that LegalZoom’s actions constitute the practice of law and that the company engages in false and misleading advertising and unfair competition, and requests a permanent injunction prohibiting LegalZoom from engaging in the practice of law and other acts, compensatory and punitive damages, and restitution.

Bottom line: This patent law firm is suing LegalZoom for, among other things, engaging in the unlicensed practice of law and false advertising in federal court.  The lawsuit also names USPTO, a federal agency, and two state Bars as defendants.  If the court ultimately grants the injunction and rules in favor of the law firm (or refuses to grant the injunction and rules in favor of LegalZoom), it would be a very significant development in this area.

Stay tuned…and be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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