If January’s trends are anything to go by, brands adore submitting counterfeit infringement claims. We’ve detected an early rise in false infringements sent in by sellers, brands, law firms and other complainants. They believe that Amazon will enforce Notice claims without vetting any of the submission details. Some parties may have a short term strategy to clear out a competitor and reap sales through targeted Amazon account suspension.
They may also push Amazon to suspend the targeted seller indefinitely with a convincing “legal letter”. Often times this may not even be from the true rights owner.
Either way, sellers need to educate themselves as much as possible to defend their accounts. Those who attack sellers with fake complaints should expect potential legal action against them as their targets become smarter.
Are you Submitting False Infringements Based on Bad Legal Advice?
Teams enforcing right owner infringement cases have been watching their email queues fill up. To reduce the mass reporting of infringements, they’ve started punishing sellers who send false or unsubstantiated claims.
In 2018, we saw an increase in sellers who Amazon account suspensions due to false or counterfeit accusations against their competitors. Another common trend was account suspensions for those who submitted trademark or patent complaints that had no basis. Notice investigators and managers are happy to suspend the Amazon seller accounts submitting those bogus claims.
For those of you who see your future approach to competitors from the “anything goes” perspective, understand this represents an incredibly risky proposition. There are a few things to consider before you take these dramatic steps. This applies both to private label sellers of their own products and to re-sellers who “partner” with a brand to knock off sellers in exchange for exclusivity.
What to do when a counterfeit sale was made on your site:
- Be prepared: Have plenty of info at the ready to prove to Amazon that a counterfeit sale was made on the site. Be ready to explain it in detail. Make sure you’re not blindly trusting so-called legal advice on this. Double-check it yourself or get a second legal opinion.
- Avoid assumptions: Don’t assume your case matches up exactly with what another seller submitted on another supposedly similar case. Judge your allegations based on their own merits, and not on something you found on the forums.
- Leverage expertise: It only takes one or two abusive sellers, brands, or law firms to spoil the marketplace for the whole bunch. If you give Amazon manufacturer info or design details that do not correspond with what the other seller’s lawyers can prove (or disprove) later on, then you’re going to be in trouble. The risks are high, including legal costs and lawsuits for potential damages. Think it through, and only use reliable legal help.
- Consider the source: If the brand or their law firm have not done their homework, they may be selling you on a concept that will only get you suspended. In their lust to knock sellers off, brands often exaggerate the nature of reported violations and push claims on Amazon that they cannot sufficiently prove.
- Evaluate credibility: Assess your legal assistance, even their competency or skill level, and determine what is worth the risk. Many law firms advertise services in this area and pretend they can help knock off other sellers by making infringement reports on weak or spurious legal grounds.
- Put your business first: Your account is the one that gets suspended, not your lawyer’s and not the brand’s.
Best to think twice
Unless you fully understand all of the legal principles at play and thoroughly grasp the risks to your business of any backlash, think twice before pursuing this as a means of catching competitors. Legal and accurate Notice claims of infringement are acceptable. But if you clutter up the queues with fake ones, expect to pay with an Amazon account suspension.
I’m happy to help you find the appropriate lawyers to look things over or offer second opinions. If it’ll keep you from getting yourself suspended, get an best in class consultation from an expert.
Authenticity — Amazon Concerns Around Authenticity or Counterfeit
If you get any messages from Amazon about product quality complaints or ASIN blocks, take them seriously. When account investigators think they see any kind of pattern to those complaints, they suspend. If you cannot come up with several clear solutions to stop similar reports in the future, they won’t bother reading your listing block appeals. Nor will they reinstate that precious ASIN of yours.
There’s a reason why Amazon includes that link to their anti-counterfeit policy in almost every message sent to sellers when suspending their ASINs or accounts for inauthentic items.
If you’re a re-seller, expect in 2019 that brands will complain of bad product like never before. They understand the need to conduct a test buy to present details that prove your items don’t match listings for their products. Even where test buys may not show counterfeit items, some brands still use them for counterfeit reporting. If some of your legitimate buyers also report your inventory for product detail page mismatches, you’ll need to counter authenticity complaints.
When your appeal for reinstatement gets denied
When a seller’s POA lacks key information, the appeal for reinstatement will likely be denied. Product Quality teams must be harsh in their enforcement of authenticity. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you see things their way. If your bestseller ASINs are suspended for being inauthentic and you lack adequate invoices and authenticity letters – you’ve been operating a risky operation for too long already. Get that documentation immediately and keep it ready for any ASIN sold.
Do you only check inventory quality one time early in the manufacturing process then push all batches straight to FBA? Do you remove some units to ensure each batch sourced has the quality your listings promise? Be specific in your POA when you tell them what your Quality Control improvements include.
Make sure Amazon investigators can easily verify your supplier information and if necessary include that info right in the Plan of Action. It should not force you to make a lengthy POA that becomes hard to read. Instead, it emphasizes where you get the product and how Amazon can verify the info they need for their purposes.
What do you need to do to match Amazon’s expectations for supply chain documents?
- Complete invoices: these should be detailed with quantities you’ve sold of the products on Amazon. Make sure the item description and the part number are also visible.
- Authenticity letters: these should be from the brand, manufacturer, or authorized re-seller. Get these on the company’s letterhead. The letter can be simple and straightforward, including all relevant info on how long you’ve done business together and what they make, or what brands they sell.
- Dated invoices: all invoices must be dated within the 365 day period prior to the sale of the items on Amazon. If it looks like you altered or changed the dates, then you’re done on Amazon.
Amazon needs to see evidence that your supplier is an established distributor of items that you indicated. Include the below for Amazon investigators to review and approve your supplier info. If anything is missing, expect them to reject it as “non-verifiable”. If possible, have all of this on the invoice itself or ask the supplier to include this on all future invoices.
How do you show evidence your supplier is an established distributor?
- Name of your contact: include their full name and title. Owners, sales managers, and sales directors are the best people to reference.
- Direct dial numbers: these should lead straight to your contact are best. That way even if they’re on the phone the odds are Amazon investigators will get a voicemail attached to that person. If you can help it, don’t just pass along some switchboard number or an 800 number.
- Provide links: these should be to an e-commerce website, a link to the brand’s site, or to your manufacturer if you’re the brand. If they don’t see an active website for your supplier or their independent online search fails to show they exist as a real business, they’ll disregard your supplier as unverified.
Entire Amazon account suspension appeals have been denied, even with a good POA, for non-verified suppliers. Take their research methods into your supply chain extremely seriously and act accordingly before Amazon finds any reason to take you down.
What if a Brand Attacks to Move me Off Selling their Products?
Whether it is their own private label products or brands they resell, many sellers fight a daily battle with the brands they sell on Amazon. In 2019, you may experience new conflict from brands you have sold for years. Between inauthentic complaints from buyers and brands tracking all sales of their products on Amazon. The dangers of reselling continue to go up.
Remember, brands know everything they need to about Amazon’s Notice teams and processes and they understand how they can use their tools to control distribution. Amazon won’t put a stop to that anytime soon unless lawsuits dictate otherwise.
Types of violations
Copyright violations: You can counter an improperly filed or fake copyright infringement complaint against you with a DMCA notice, but watch your step. Make sure you haven’t listed any copyright content, even in error, or jumped on a listing with copyright images. You may not have created the listing or detail page but that alone is not enough to dispute the Notice complaint. Seek proper legal guidance from a competent attorney before you dive in.
Trademark complaints: Are there trademark violations present? Many sellers receive performance notifications warning them for trademark violations and immediately diagnose validity. They may use their years of knowledge within their niche or the fact that they handled their own trademark registration. However, this often leads to emails sent to notice-dispute teams that attempt to dispute valid trademark allegations. Those disputes fall on deaf ears at Amazon because investigators insist past disputes are resolved with account owners.
Patent infringement complaints: In 2019, sellers will ask for more patent attorney referrals than ever before. This is due to the increased efforts by brands to identify any possible method to control who sells their items on Amazon. Patents involve complex design review. This makes them much tougher to prepare a defense for than clearly registered trademarks. For this reason, many parties try to exploit the inherent complexity of patent claims. Sellers who don’t understand how these internal teams work struggle to understand how to represent their interests.
What Are My Next Steps to Avoid Amazon Account Suspension?
For some reason, many private label brand owners begin selling without having registered their trademark. No one foresaw other sellers joining their listings to offer non branded generic versions of their products but they certainly need to see it coming now. Be ready because this practice is happening across all categories and anyone could be impacted. Have legal advice and previously composed drafts of correspondence ready to go into Notice teams.
Frequently, private label sellers also cope with infringement complaint attacks both legitimate and otherwise. For this reason, making sure you have a lawyer handy who knows their stuff is critical. Moreover, they need to be reachable and reply to you on time when this happens.
Unless you’re a lawyer yourself, you likely don’t want to take chances checking large legal volumes out of the local library to conduct self-study. I’m guessing your Amazon account has a bit more value to you than to risk that! Choose lawyers operating in this space carefully. It’s important to understand how investigators review appeals before you begin outlining one, let alone writing one.
E-commerce Chris understands how things work internally. He has outlined this comprehensive guide to help sellers like you succeed.
About the Author: Claim An Exclusive Offer
Chris McCabe is a former Amazonian who helps sellers communicate with Amazon to protect and save their business. He and his team are always happy to help with ASIN and account level suspensions and reinstatement needs. They unfortunately happen every day, which means they work on them every day.
Have further questions or need anything else explained? You’ll receive an exclusive 50% discount off a one hour call. After working for Amazon for many years, evaluating seller account performance and enforcing Amazon’s policies, Chris launched e-commerceChris. He teaches sellers how to think like Amazon, protect their accounts, and appeal listing restrictions and suspensions. For more information you can can visit his site here: https://www.ecommercechris.com/get-amazon-account-back/