This is a guest post by Suzi Hixon, of The Private Label Lawyer.
Suzi has practiced intellectual property law for just over 13 years. While she's handled the trademark portfolio of a Fortune 100 company, she especially loves helping entrepreneurs and small businesses protect and enforce their brands, on and off the Amazon platform. When Suzi isn't helping clients navigate Amazon, you can find her reading, hiking, spending time with her precious (and precocious) niece and nephews, or taking care of her menagerie of furry (and feathered) friends on the family farm.
Or so they say, if you aren’t an Amazon private labeler fighting counterfeiters this holiday season.
Counterfeits... they are a major hassle, and I know we sometimes feel like we’re playing Whack-a-Mole as we try to get them to pound sand. But, you don’t have to play Whack-a-Mole! I have 4 hot tips to help you protect your private label brand this Quarter 4 on Amazon.
Now, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when discussing “counterfeiters.” Of course, there are various types of “hijackers” or “third party rogue sellers” who might jump on your Amazon listings. Many times, these third parties are innocent sellers. It’s possible they’ve obtained your product through some other channel (like a liquidation), or they are new sellers selling a generic item similar to yours and simply don’t understand the importance of branding. In these situations, it’s best to proactively work hard to control your distribution channels, and you might find that it’s a wise business decision to buy up that liquidated inventory. As for the ignorant sellers who accidentally hop on your Amazon listings, a nice letter advising them of their mistake (and Amazon’s repercussions for remaining on the listing) will usually do the trick!
But what about the egregious counterfeiters whose numbers we've seen increasing on the Amazon platform at a fever pace? Well, as we dig deep into the trenches of Quarter 4, it’s more important than ever to not only protect your brand, but to protect your customers. Amazon, depending on its mood, may or may not help us with the counterfeit removals, but there are steps you can proactively take to deter counterfeiters, or kick them to the curb that much faster if necessary. So, here are 4 tips to help you deter counterfeiters and build your brand value, on (and off) the Amazon platform.
First, I strongly suggest filing your brand’s trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition to getting to use the cool little R-in-the-circle “®” once registered, you’ll also be bestowed presumptive rights to the trademark throughout the United States, either as soon as you started using the trademark in commerce, or when you first filed, whichever comes first. Trust me, getting that registration number gives you a lot more clout when it comes to enforcing your trademark!
Use your trademark on your Amazon listings in a way that makes it clear that the listing is branded. You can use the little “™” even before you file your application, and you do start gaining common law use rights to the mark as soon as you start using it.
Place your trademark on your branded packaging as well as your products. Go a step further, if possible, and make your trademark “a part” of your product (e.g., change product molds to integrate your trademark into the plastic).
Next, use branded packaging which shows your trademark and any unique aspects of your brand, such as colors or images. You want to make it difficult for third parties to copy you. Throwing your products into a polybag with a sticker just isn’t going to cut it these days. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on nice packaging. It can be simple or more complex. One of the simplest packages in the entire world also belongs to one of the world’s most famous and valuable brands, Tiffany & Co.
Image courtesy of www.tiffany.com
I don’t know about you, but I would love to see this box under the tree this year!
After you’ve applied and been approved for Amazon’s Brand Registry Program (you have done this, haven’t you?!), take advantage of your enrollment status and really customize your Amazon listings. You now have more control over the content of your listing: use it. (Brand Registry is an important step. It exists for a reason. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise! Use it to your advantage!)
Use nice images on your Amazon listings to show your packaging as well as your trademark on your product. On one hand, we want would-be counterfeiters to move on the second they hit your listing. On the other hand, we want people who already love your brand (or will shortly, of course) to see that your Amazon listing is a branded listing the second they hit the page. You have their attention for a split second at most. You want customers to see your brand the moment they hit your page. Don’t make them look for it!
And finally, ask Amazon to “gate” or “restrict” your brand. It’s a common misconception that “Brand Gating” is reserved for the mega or luxury brands. So not true!
Your brand must first already be enrolled in Amazon’s Brand Registry program. If you offer a product that goes “on or in” the body, or if you’ve already had problems with counterfeiters in the past, it does appear that this “helps” your chances of gating success. And of course, an Amazon listing that shows that you love and take pride in your brand couldn’t hurt either! The cool thing about Brand Gating is that it doesn’t discriminate. So, it doesn’t matter if you have counterfeiters hopping on your listings, or perhaps third parties who somehow obtained your product through legitimate means... gating will generally prevent third parties from listing products as “new” on your listings.
If you are interested in restricting your brand à la Nikon, Samsung, Linksys, and many Disney brands, be sure to visit The Private Label Lawyer’s Brand Gating Request page!
Here’s to an amazing Quarter 4!
Suzi Hixon, Esq.
The Private Label Lawyer.