Amazon’s Project Zero Means Getting a Trademark Is Now More Important Than Ever
Amazon announced a new program yesterday ambitiously named Project Zero, with the stated goal of “empower[ing] brands to help drive counterfeits to zero.”
Counterfeiters and Listing Hijackers
Counterfeit products and the associated act of “listing hijacking” — where a counterfeiter lists what they claim to be the owner’s product for a lower price so the counterfeiter shows up as the default seller on the owner’s own product listing — have been a major issue for Amazon over the past couple of years. Roughly half of my trademark clients are Amazon sellers, many of whom only initiate the trademark process after they’ve found their listings hijacked.
Previous Solution: Amazon Brand Registry
Until now, Amazon’s main method for dealing with these counterfeiters has been the Amazon Brand Registry, Amazon’s program that gives sellers enhanced branding options including better listing customization as well as the ability to report hijackers, counterfeiters, and other people infringing on the seller’s branding. The only requirement for membership is a registered trademark.
Because of the minimum wait time of roughly eight-to-twelve months to finish registering a trademark in the U.S., sellers who wait to file their trademark applications until after they’ve been harmed by counterfeiters are due for several months of frustration during which they’ll be unable to do anything to stop these infringers from taking over their listings. Some unfortunate sellers may even discover that the counterfeiters have beaten them to their own trademark!
Even with Amazon Brand Registry membership, sellers are still required to write out each individual product listing that infringes on their trademark and wait for Amazon to manually remove the offending listings, which can be a tedious process if a counterfeiter has launched dozens of imitations of the seller’s products.
Introducing Project Zero
Project Zero is meant to assist with the prevention of counterfeiting through the followings means:
1. Automated Protections
Amazon will automatically remove infringing listings with their new artificial intelligence engine, making use of trademark information and other data submitted by participating sellers. Presumably as this engine is fed more data by sellers, it will get better and better at identifying and removing counterfeiters through machine learning.
2. Self-Service Counterfeit Removal Tool
Amazon will allow sellers who are members of Project Zero to remove counterfeit listings on their own, without having to submit a request to Amazon. If this is as convenient as it sounds, it will make deleting counterfeit listings as easy as deleting spam emails from your inbox.
3. Product Serialization
Apparently by having sellers mark every product’s packaging, Amazon will prevent counterfeit goods from reaching consumers by catching them during the shipping process.
Where Does Trademark Registration Come In?
At the moment, Project Zero is invite-only, but this will surely change as the kinks are worked out. Once it’s opened up for general use, the main requirement for joining will presumably be trademark registration, as with the Amazon Brand Registry. As important as Amazon Brand Registry membership has been up to now, Project Zero membership will be essential. The difference between being a seller with Project Zero and without Project Zero will be even more stark than with Brand Registry, because the remedies for removing counterfeiters will be much more powerful.
As counterfeiters continue to hone their processes for exploiting Amazon, sellers who don’t have fully registered trademarks will be more and more vulnerable compared to ones who are able to use the powerful tools that come with Project Zero. So don’t put off the trademark application process; get in contact with a lawyer — perhaps the very lawyer writing this blog post — as soon as possible.
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