Basic trademark law for Amazon sellers in the United States:
A trademark is a name, logo, word that identifies a brand. Basically, when you see the Nike check mark or the ‘M’ for McDonald’s on any product you know exactly what company that is and what kind of products they sell.
The legal standard for when someone is infringing is when there is consumer confusion as to what product or brand we are buying.
The application for a trademark is relatively easy to fill out, we help clients do it all the time. You do it online at USPTO.gov – that is the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You fill in, space by space, about the trademark you are trying to register. It is relatively inexpensive and does not take much of time to complete. If a seller tries to do it themselves and there is a problem, they receive an ‘office action’, a notice to respond. An office action does slow down the process, but not remarkable so. It takes anywhere from 6 months to 1 year to get a trademark approved.
At Rosenbaum Famularo, the law firm behind AmazonSellersLawyer.com, we believe in teaching Amazon sellers to do things themselves, but are always here to help.
Copyright law pertains to images, or pictures, and verbiage. You do not have to file for anything. When you take pictures of products yourself and post them on Amazon, you are protected by copyright. Amazon grants you the perpetual license to join listings, so you are not violating any type of copyright law. If you take someone else’s pictures from another website and create a listing, then you are violating copyright law.
Copyright is all about the creative process, so as soon as you create it, you own it. The ability to enforce it in court may depend on whether or not you actually file with the copyright office, but in terms of you owning & using it, you are protected.
Patent law is a bit more complex. There are two different types of patent law: Design and utility. Design patents protect the appearance of a product. A utility patent protects the function of a product. Patents are good for twenty years and then expire. Design patents are easier to maintain.
Trade dress has to do with the look, feel, color, shape, texture and packaging of a product. It never expires and does not have to be filed.
First Sale Doctrine only exists in the United States; it does not apply in Europe. It states that you can buy and sell anything you want without the manufacturer’s permission, but when you resell it to a consumer, it cannot have any material differences in what the consumer receives. There are many exceptions to this. Some things that make a product materially different are warrantees, exclusive packaging, and lack of quality controls.