Swallowed by Amazon? What do you do when your products are de-listed for suspected Intellectual Property violations?

‘Tis the season…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for online shopping – from Black Friday deals, to Cyber Monday, all the way to the Boxing Day sales. In the UK, internet sales as a percentage of total sales have increased from around 5% ten years ago to up to 20% now, or one in five sales.

Of course, for many companies, online sales make up 100% of their business. As the biggest online retail platform – in fact, the world’s biggest retailer full stop [1] – Amazon provides the platform for more than 2 million sellers, many of which are small and medium-sized businesses.

For these kinds of companies, Amazon is absolutely critical to the foundation of their business.

So what happens when your products are suddenly de-listed at your busiest time of year?

What if your entire account were suspended?

Our client’s story

This is exactly the position that one of our clients found themselves in recently. Many of their products were taken down, and on investigating the reports was alarmed to find that the trade mark cited against their products was the well-known Christian Louboutin European trade mark for the colour red applied to the sole of high-heeled shoes.

What’s more, this was particularly surprising because none of the products listed under these ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) were linked to shoes with red soles. In fact, none of our client’s shoes had red soles at all.

On investigation, it transpired that the reports were not made by Louboutin at all, but had originated from Amazon.

As time passed, our client’s accounts in various countries were suspended – in the UK, France, Spain and Italy.

The damage caused to our client’s business while the accounts were suspended was severe – especially given the time of year that this action had been taken.

Legal issues have real impact

The problem is that Amazon’s powers to effect sanctions against seller accounts on the basis of unfounded “suspected IP violations” have serious consequences.

It can be a real nightmare to try and navigate the internal reporting processes, with timescales, procedure and contacts being extremely unclear. Let alone whilst watching your livelihood slipping away with each day that passes while the accounts are suspended.

Decisive action is paramount. But where to start? Luckily, our clients reached out to us quickly and we were able to act assertively to minimise damage to their business.

The first question for analysis is whether an IP infringement has taken place.

In this case, our clear conclusion was that it did not. Not every dispute is so clear cut!

What happened next?

Our team took on Amazon directly, setting out our client’s position and, within a week, all of their accounts were reinstated – with an apology from the retailing giant.