New Amazon Designers: How to Protect Yourselves
How to obtain Proper IP protections:
You are a designer; you want to be able to protect your product. While protections for designers are limited, there are some protections you can obtain for your business.
You will first need to search www.USPTO.com to see if the brand or mark you wish to trademark already exists. Conducting the research yourself will save you money, but will cost you time. On the USPTO page, there is a filter where you will be able to conduct your search. Make sure to do a thorough job looking through the existing trademarks, if yours is confusingly similar to the existing mark, your registration will be denied. Confusingly similar can be you having a logo that is either phonetically the same as an existing product, or say looks the same as an existing logo and you both are selling clothing items. When a customer looks at your logo and a logo that is already registered, they should not be so similar that it confuses the customer into not knowing which product is which. It is important to look on the USPTO site and filter through other designer’s logos, make sure yours is different. You do not want your registration to be rejected.
Once you’ve searched through the proper database and discovered your particular image is not trademarked, you will need to apply for a trademark of your logo. Additionally, you will need to register your domain and business names.
This is a particular field that most designers would hire an attorney to complete, but it is possible to do on your own. You will need to register your trademark and business name by logging onto uspto.com. It is on this website that you are able to register for your trademark online. Your mark must meet certain requirement in order to be trademarked.
Not just any mark or logo will be accepted as a trademark. If your mark is merely descriptive of your company, it will likely be rejected as a trademark. For example, “Clothing Co.” for a logo for a clothing company is merely descriptive and is not strong enough to obtain protection. There is an exception to this rule, that being if your mark has secondary meaning. What is secondary meaning? Think of it as your mark’s reputation. Over the years you have developed your brand and your company so much that whenever anyone sees your mark, they know its meaning is your company.
The strength of your trademark can be determined on a scale, descriptive being the weakest, and Arbitrary/ fanciful being the strongest.
Descriptive Suggestive Arbitrary / Fanciful
A suggestive mark is a mark that requires a “’mental leap’ to figure out its meaning” This mark does not describe that your company sells clothing, but it does suggests that it may sell clothing. A suggestive mark can be approved, but it would require a secondary meaning.
Arbitrary marks are marks that already have one meaning, but your use of this mark has no relation to the service you are providing. For example, if you had your company symbol is a dog, but you are in the sale of clothing. The dog symbol is arbitrary because it does not relate to your service.
Finally, we have fanciful marks. These are strong marks because they are simply made up words or symbols that mean nothing. This approach is wonderful for the creative mind because you are the designer, and you are able to give your fanciful mark meaning.
Surnames and geographic designs are not allowed to be trademarked without secondary meanings, so if you wish to use your name or your location as a mark, it is important to establish your secondary meaning first, then apply for the mark.
Aside from applying and being granted your trademark, you will want to obtain a domain name. A domain name is your online address or your URL to your website. This allows people to identify your IP address. To register a domain name; you will need to register with a registrar. These registrars vary in prices but know that there will be fees involved such as transfer out fees are applied if you choose to relocate your domain to another registrar.
You will also want to apply for a business name, which is the name you use for wherever your store or business is located. You can apply for this at your secretary of state’s website.
Once your marks are protected, you may wish to place your logo on your designs. This small marking will let competitors know that they cannot copy your exact shirts, pants, dressed, etc. because they are protected. The small logo on each article you sell establishes your brand and will protect you in the future.
Following procedures to keep your business running smoothly:
Keep up to date on your marks. The Trademark company is not responsible to notify you if someone is using your marks. It is your responsibility as a trademark owner and business operator to stay on top of potential infringers who may be selling your product. One way to keep up to date is to do a Google search of any companies who sell similar products as you. You can also conduct research on Amazon.com or eBay to determine if anyone has infringed on your rights.
Now that you are registered to sell on Amazon, know what constitutes a violation of your IP rights, and what does not. If you notice someone is selling a similar product using a logo or design that matches your Trademark, this is an IP violation. You will need to notify the seller of their error and ask them to remove their listing. If the seller refuses, then you will need to notify Amazon of the infringement. It is best to first notify the seller because more often then not, they do not realize they are infringing on anyone’s rights. Once they are notified of not just their infringement, but their violation of Amazon’s policies, the very policy violation that could have them immediately suspended, they will often remove the listing.
If you notice there is a seller that is claiming to sell your exact product, with identical labeling and logo, but in fact is not an authentic product made by you, but rather a cheaper knock off; this is IP infringement. Again, you will need to notify the seller of their mistake and ask for the listing to be removed.
Something that may seem as though are protected by your IP rights but actually are not would be the Display Images on Amazon. Once you add your display image, that image belongs to Amazon.com and other sellers are legally allowed to use this image. This may be frustrating, but remember, you have your own unique design, and your customers will recognize that you image matches your products, no one else’s.