Why business on Amazon has to deal with intellectual property?
Intellectual property law was created to help inventors, creators and authors to commercialize the results of their intellectual activity and effort. First of all each IP object is aimed at helping business to compete and to earn money.
For several years I worked as a wage IP lawyer in one of Ukraine’s top law firms and each day communicated with the representatives of industry leading international corporations. What I have realized, that many of them did manage in the past or still manage their IP assets in an inefficient way and very often world famous brands for a long time were not even registered in Ukraine, which was very beneficial for copycats, counterfeiters and so called 'trademark squatters'.
Amazon sellers need to survive on this competitive market, which is overwhelmed by copycats and people, who abuse different legal instruments to remove their competitors. That is why it is so crucial to know basic characteristics of each IP object and know what to do in each situation. This is introductory post, so I will just list the main characteristics of each object and give examples how they can help or disrupt an Amazon business.
Copyright protects works - text, audio, video, sculpture etc. Copyright protects from the actual direct copying and gives the author the right to stop others from using it for ANY purposes (even for non-commercial). Benefits: you may protect your listing from copying - the selling texts, your edited photos of the product can be copyrighted and you may easily remove those, who copied you. Dangers: the procedure of reporting copyright infringement is not perfect, and your competitors even not having rights to some works, may abuse the procedure and remove your listing for at least 10 days.
Trademarks are the designations (words, logos, package designs, sounds, 3D forms) that are aimed to differentiate your product from the products of other entities/sellers. The trademark gets value when it is popular and between two almost identical products the customer decides just on the basis of the belief in the company, who owns the brand. Benefits: once your business grows, the trademark starts to work for you, people make decision in favor of your product more frequently, you also may earn money on authorizing other sellers to sell products under your brand, you can sell your brand. Dangers: if you sell a product under someone else’s brand, you must get all necessary licenses, since at any moment of time the owner of the brand can block you.
There are two types of patents in the US: utility patents and design patents (industrial design in other countries). Patents are recognized to be the best instrument to protect the actual product. Many sellers are quite confused when they have applied their own trademark to the product, but it turns out that they somehow infringe someone’s intellectual property. And that IP is usually a patent (invention/design). Benefits: if you created new design or technical improvement, you can remove copycats regardless the different brand applied to and minor differences in the product; you can sell licenses and maybe earn even more than selling your own products. Dangers: you always have to make patent searches to be sure that your new product does not infringe any patents; even if you have applied you own brand to the patented product, or introduced minor unsubstantial changes to the product, you still are infringing patents.
1. Utility patents protect the actual invention which may be a technical improvement of some mechanism (door lock mechanism, seatbelt) or the method of getting some result (manufacturing process, different actions like making holes in metal, filling water balloons). Depending on how the patent claims are drafted the patent may depend on the design or actual materials used and may not.
2. Design patent protects the actual appearance of the product. Such protection is aimed to protect designer’s work from copying. Even if products are differently composed on inside, but are made to serve the same functions and their appearance is the same, the design patent will be deemed infringed.
This was a very short introduction to the world of intellectual property. We think that more and more individual entrepreneurs, who have no legal education and have no in-house lawyers, need to get information about intellectual property, since this knowledge will save them from many problems in the far future or just tomorrow.