As a seller on Amazon, you may one day find an email in your inbox with a notice or claim of trademark infringement for a product or products you offer. Do not panic and keep selling. It has a solution. I was the unlucky recipient of one of those a month after opening my Amazon Seller account, and as a new business owner, I had no idea what to do with it. I want to share my journey as a new online retail business owner with those who wish to learn and grow with me. This incident was worth writing about, as I am working on building a business where customers feel as family, and reputation is important to accomplish this goal. Also, a law suit can be financially and legally detrimental to you as a person and as business owner, especially if you just opened for business.
Let’s refresh the concept of what in the world is a trademark violation. Regardless of where you are selling products, a trademark or copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of a trade or registered mark on goods and services. So, if you are selling someone else’s products through Amazon, and you are not deeply in tune and informed about every detail, word, and aspect of every single product, including the description (yes, it’s like that), you might be at risk of receiving one of these emails. But like I said before, do not despair, there is a solution as long as you address the matter promptly and correctly.
Who Sent the Notice?
When an infringement occurs, Amazon provides the trademark owner with a form to fill out. In order to fill out this form, the person wanting to file the complaint must be the intellectual rights owner or their agent. In my case, it was the intellectual property attorney who filed the claim. Whether the notice comes directly from Amazon or a different entity, you must take this seriously and address it immediately because you are being notified that you are in violation of someone’s intellectual property. Keep in mind that that the trademark owner also has the option of filing a lawsuit against the infringing user, and you would want to avoid this at all costs by accurately addressing the violation notice. In some cases, an attorney for a different business will contact you directly, rather than filing a claim via Amazon. In my case, I received a trademark infringement complaint directly from Amazon, but the claim was filed by the intellectual property attorney. Regardless of how you received the claim or who filed it, you must address it immediately, use caution and have a well-thought out plan of action and response; do your research. Be sure to have solid legal grounds in your reply. In other words, keep your opinion to yourself and refrain from making incorrect statements.
I woke up one day to an email containing a notice stating I was in violation of Amazon Seller’s trademark policies. It was like Chinese to me. I learned that trademark infringement claims can be filed for a variety of reasons, with the common denominator of being considered a violation. As I learned through my experience, the registered trademark does not need to be identical to the violation in question for it to fall under the category of an infringement. Confused yet? I was too. In this case, the mark was “similar enough to the original,” generating enough confusion (according to the attorney), and constituting an infringement. The problem was in the wording used for the description of the item in question; it was shortened during the inventory upload (it is still uncertain how it happened), creating an infringement.
What Happens to the Product?
On their part, Amazon’s initial course of action is to remove the item in question from your storefront, and place your account under review if it’s your first violation of trademark or copyright infringement, or inactive if you’re are repeated offender, which you don’t want to be. If Amazon has not already done so, take the time to remove this product from your Amazon storefront and anywhere else you might be selling it. Remember that Amazon is a great place to sell your products, and you want to maintain a good healthy relationship with them to keep your storefront up and running. Reputation matters.
Me, A Violator?
My case was peculiar because the infringement claim I received was for the use of a commonly known phrase part of the description of the product, and which happened as a result of an upload error. Strange, right? I thought so too. The fact that this particular shortened-phrase is widely used all over the internet, and I had not read anything about other people being sued left and right for their use of the same sparked my interest. I call the intellectual property owner’s agent (yes, you can do this, most attorneys don’t bite), and requested the trademark approval authentications, which are legal documents that prove the person or company filing an infringement complaint against you lawfully owns the intellectual property rights to the product in question. Still waiting for those. Regardless of your particular case, always identify the item in the complaint and do in-depth research. As I later learned, not all trademark or infringement complaints filed via Amazon are valid in nature, but the online mogul addresses and enforces all trademark/copyright complaints, and they take them seriously. For this reason, is it imperative for us as online retailers to know how to address them and do research to protect ourselves.
This Won’t Hurt Me
Just because you are not supposed to lose your cool over a trademark infringement notice doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax about it. Take it seriously. A trademark infringement can seriously impact the functionality of your Amazon storefront, which stinks. It can affect your Buy Box ability, your revenue, and what I believe matters most in today’s online retail business, your reputation, as it will difficult to get rid of the negative reviews. You can make a counter claim as to your rights to use the mark, but you must be sure to have legal grounds for your defense or consider hiring an attorney.
Know Your Stuff
Amazon is an online mogul. Millions of large and small businesses, as well as individuals sell their products on Amazon. Stay up-to-date about your products, always know what you’re selling. Making sure you are not violating intellectual property is an imperative step to take to protect your Amazon Seller account. This might be easy to do if you are selling just a few products on Amazon, but if like me, you sell thousands of items from all over the web, this might prove a little more difficult. I am grateful to have an amazing support team backing me up and helping me build a solid online reputation. If you have doubts about the intellectual property rights associated with a particular product you sell, you can always contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or search their trademark database for answers.
Communicate with Your Supplier
If you are using a drop-ship company, it is important to have open communication with your supply chain relation, include them in any email exchanges you have regarding the infringement claim from Amazon, and have regular conversations with them about the products you sell on your store. Always let your supplier know if you are concerned about infringement. If they are not receptive about your concerns, perhaps it’s time to change suppliers. There are quite a few out there offering thousands of products at competitive prices.
So, if like me, you wake up early in the morning, make your coffee, pet your dogs, cats, squirrels, or other lovely animals (or humans), and sit in front of your computer with the intention of having a magnificent day of sales and pampering your customers, but instead find an Amazon trademark infringement claim in your email, do not despair and take these precautionary steps:
1. Breathe and go get coffee. You are going to need.
2. See who sent you the email. Is it directly from Amazon or from the intellectual property owner or agent? Do you have their contact information? Keep it handy, you will need it.
3. Check the product or products in question. You should find this information in the notice email you received. If the notice does not contain identifying information about the product in question, I suggest contacting Amazon Seller or the person who sent you the email directly. You will be needing this information to properly address the claim.
4. Be sure to check other products that have similarity in any way to the product in question. Each product is a violation. Yes, I didn’t know that either.
5. If Amazon has not already done it, remove the item from your storefront and anywhere else you are selling it on the web until you resolve this matter. One trademark infringement claim is enough.
6. Go get more coffee, you’re about to be on the phone for a long time.
7. Contact the person or company who sent you the notice. This could be Amazon, the intellectual property owner, or their agent and find out why you are in violation. Be nice and courteous with them, your reputation is at stake here. Remember not all lawyers bite, and those that do, bite them back.
8. If possible, ask them if they will be willing to retract their claim from your Amazon Seller account. I was not that lucky, but I learned it is a common practice. If what they are claiming sounds off, trust you gut and do your research. Not all trademark or copyright infringement claims contain 100% accurate information, but they can 100% disrupt the functionality of your sales if you don’t protect yourself and do your research.
9. Follow up on this matter until you have a full resolution of the matter.
Most trademark/copyright infringement cases on Amazon are resolved harmoniously. If you think you have been falsely accused of infringement, build your case before barking at the claimant. Prepare yourself. If you know why you are in violation, deal with it as soon as possible to avoid sales interruptions, or worse, and inactive storefront because you are under review or a repeated offender (sounds awful, eh?). Remember that in an online world where sales don’t have a pretty smiling face to accompany them, reputation and marketing play a huge role in how your customers perceive you. Be open, be straight, be real.