On Amazon, it’s the sellers’ responsibility to make sure that their products are sold legally and with the property rights owner’s authorization. Failure to do so can result in an Amazon suspension. But what exactly does all that mean? If Amazon jargon is new to you, then let’s do a quick review of intellectual property right infringements.
Intellectual Property Rights. What Are They?
There are four types of property rights that Amazon sellers need to uphold: copyright, trademark, utility patent and design patent. In other words, they need to avoid bootlegs, rip-offs, counterfeits and knock-offs if they want to keep an Amazon suspension at bay.
On paper, selling these items on Amazon would make both the seller and Amazon liable for breach of intellectual property rights. But a court recently ruled that Amazon is not liable, given its business model, which means the seller is solely responsible for an infringement. Here’s what you need to know about intellectual property rights:
|Property Rights||Valid for||Apply to||Type of Infrigement||Examples||Tips|
|Copyright||Several decades after the author's death||creative work like books, movies, songs, web content, paintings and photos||Bootlegging||Listing a computer game, the official cover picture, or an official critic's review||Copyright ownership is passed down to heirs or third party|
|Trademark||As long as the items are sold or defended||symbols and terms, such as brand names and logos||Misleading the customer (rip-off)||Regular crayons sold as 'Crayola', 'Apple compatible' products, accessories 'for Samsung' products||Large companies run automated checks on listings, triggering complaints whenever sellers mention their brands|
|Utility patents (patents for invention)||20 years||design features that affect functionality||Counterfeiting||Exact replica of a popular brand's blender||A rising trend (search "potato peeler' on Amazon)|
|Design patents||14 years||'non-functional' designs||Selling knock-offs||Imitation designer handbag||On the rise (search "Louis Vuitton' on Amazon)|
So, What Happened?
A property rights owner or a legal representative probably filed a complaint with Amazon, claiming there has been an infringement. Amazon policy states that it does not allow counterfeit, pirated and unauthorized replicas, unpublished scripts, content copied and transferred to a different format, compilations, inauthentic accessories, software duplicates or knockoffs to be sold, among others. You may have had your Amazon account suspended and your funds withheld.
What Can Be Done?
1. When Amazon notifies you that there’s been an infringement, give them your undivided attention.
2. Check content guidelines and anti-counterfeiting policy.
3. Identify the item or listing information that is in breach of property rights laws and Amazon policy.
4. Look up the property rights owner, and speak to them directly, as they’re usually more sympathetic than lawyers. If you cannot reach them, contact the legal representatives Amazon mentioned in their suspension notification.
5. Reveal your suppliers and the terms of your contracts with them.
6. Appeal to the owner or representative to have the claim removed.
7. If the property right owner or their representative won’t get back to you, contact your lawyer to help prove your case.
8. If you can afford to leave your Amazon suspended account on hold, then postpone writing your POA until the matter is settled with the rights owner.
9. Proceed with writing a plan of action that includes the rights owner’s consent to remove the claim.
10. If the claim hasn’t been removed, then give Amazon a detailed account of the steps you and your lawyer have taken to avoid infringement in the future or prove that the claim is not justified.
11. Check your policies and quality control measures, and train your staff to recognize the type of products or listings that can trigger an infringement claim.
12. Delist and dispose of anything in your inventory that led to having your Amazon account suspended, and anything else you’re not allowed to sell on Amazon.
13. Submit your appeal to Amazon, confirming all of the above.
How to Avoid Future Infringements
For Private Label products:
1. When uploading your product information, pay extra attention to the wording you use, and make sure everything is original.
2. Look up keywords and phrases in trademark databases, such as Justia Trademarks.
3. Before listing a private label item, make sure it’s innovative and unique, even if it passes your patent check.
If you build up stock from third parties:
1. Check who owns intellectual property rights and selling rights for every item you list, if possible.
2. Check that you have the property rights owner’s consent for all the data you enter in the product listing fields, including photos.
3. Keep a record of itemized bills and invoices for every product you source, and check them before listing.
4. Make sure your documents are invoices, not order acknowledgments, proformas, commercial invoices, etc.
5. Research your suppliers and their competitors, and avoid buying liquidation stock from wholesalers who can’t offer supporting documents in an investigation.
To conclude, the best steps you can take to avoid an Amazon suspension due to breaching intellectual property rights depend on your business model. Either carry out all the necessary checks before you list own brands, or keep your paperwork at hand, relying on suppliers who can back you up, if you source from others.