Trademark Basics for Private Label Amazon Sellers

Private label entrepreneurs drive much of the growth in eCommerce. Whether they’re bringing already developed products to market online or selling their own inventions, more people every year join the ranks of private label sellers.

‘Private label’ just means that the product has been labeled using the retailer’s chosen name instead of the manufacturer’s. Given that it’s become common for companies in the Fortune 50 to contract out manufacturing, this practice is more common even among established companies than it may seem to be.

Getting your trademarks ready for a private label product launch

The best practice  for launching a product is to do so under your registered trademark. While it may not always be feasible to register a unique trademark for every brand and sub-brand of products that you sell, what established companies tend to do is to launch products under what’s colloquially called a ‘house mark.’ House marks can be the name of your company, the name of your most successful brand, or something similar.

If a product takes off using your house mark, you can change the brand name that the product is registered under later. In the interim, you will still have trademark rights for the product that you can enforce.

At the minimum, it’s good to spend at least 5-30 minutes searching the US Patent and Trademark Office trademark search engine to look for similar trademark filings to the brand you intend to use. A few minutes looking for registered trademarks using the words you plan on using can save you massive problems later on. You can also use domain search engines to ensure that you can get a domain using that mark going forward. If you are unsure about what name to consider using, you should consult with a trademark attorney for specific advice. There are many complex aspects to choosing a name because not all the marks that you can think of can be registered.

Trademarks exist to prevent customer confusion and to allow certain products to become distinguished in the marketplace. When you sell products without a registered trademark, you make it easy for opportunistic sellers to borrow the goodwill and search ranking you might have built up on a product listing. Amazon only confers direct control over product listing content when someone has enrolled in brand registry. Under certain conditions, participants in the Amazon Vendor program can also exercise control over listing content.

Why hijackers target listings without Brand Registry

Success in a private label business on Amazon often inspires imitators — and some of those imitators are willing to use aggressive techniques that infringe on intellectual property rights. Aggressive sellers on Amazon have been known to list generic versions of a private label product on the wrong listing. Some sellers search for popular listings with large numbers of reviews that are not attached to trademarked brands. The reason why they do this is because it can result in quick profits without the immediate risk of legal consequences. Amazon also gives brand owners who have enrolled in its Brand Registry program additional tools to track use of their trademarks in Amazon listings and sellers who are selling on their branded products. Amazon only permits sellers with standard character trademarks to enroll in Brand Registry.

Investing the time and energy into legal and compliance concerns up front is never an entrepreneur's favorite subject, but it can prevent major problems and expenses later on. You don't want to spend your startup capital on inventory, marketing, and advertising only to have your listings taken over by unscrupulous sellers or to receive a trademark infringement lawsuit from a major brand.