Legal Technology

Rash of UPL lawsuits filed by LegalForce show its failure to compete, defendants say

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Raj Abhyanker is up in arms against legal technology companies he believes are practicing law without a license.

With the growth of online services that assist people filing trademarks and patents, Abhyanker says he has seen his business suffer because “I can’t do what they’re doing, but they can do what I’m doing.”

He points to malpractice insurance, CLEs, and other overhead costs an attorney like himself must absorb that a company, like LegalZoom, does not. Abhyanker says if he operated like the companies he is suing, he would be disbarred.

Circumventing the rules of practicing law, he argues, creates “unfair ways to compete with lawyers.”

Abhyanker repeatedly invokes this perceived unfairness throughout the lawsuits he has filed, over the past month, against six companies: FileMy LLC, LegalZoom, Trademarks411, TTC Business Solutions, Trademark Engine and TradeMark Express.

Abhyanker, an attorney and owner of LegalForce RAPC, a patent and trademark law firm in California, and Trademarkia, a trademark search engine, says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and state bars are not doing their jobs regulating these new legal service providers. Abhyanker was named as one of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels in 2013.

“They are too afraid to do anything because they are afraid of being accused of being anti-competitive … or pissing someone off,” he says. In Abhyanker’s view, these lawsuits could begin fill that leadership void.

Not so, says Chris DeMassa, president of TradeMark Express.

“It’s baloney,” he says. “This is a nuisance lawsuit to limit competition.”

DeMassa explains that his company, which employs five full-time attorneys, was “examined by the USPTO directly about six or seven years ago” and that “they signed off on us.”

Raj Abhyanker. ABA Journal file photo by Tony Avelar.

DeMassa believes existing oversight mechanisms are working in the trademark field, and the lack of leadership Abhyanker claims is fiction.

Kenneth Friedman, LegalZoom’s vice president of legal and government affairs, said in an email of the lawsuit against them: “We are seeing an aspiring competitor angrily lash out after failing to compete in the marketplace.” DeMassa echoes a similar sentiment.

Trademark Engine declined to comment, and the other three corporate defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

Abhyanker admits that growth is flat for his company, and agrees he is failing to compete because his company’s costs are much higher because of what he sees as unfair competition.

Meanwhile, DeMassa sounds emboldened by this lawsuit, saying firmly that his business falls within the bounds of the law, but that discovery could show Abhyanker’s Trademarkia has been filing trademarks poorly for years.

“I would love to go to court over this,” he says.

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