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Amazon is both friend and foe

Amazon has ruffled the feathers of some of its clients recently. It started with selling private house brands of batteries and phone chargers and then expanded into toys, clothing and furniture. Soon companies complained that their online retail partner was creating cheaper products of its own to compete with theirs. There were also accusations that Amazon was not doing enough to eliminate independent companies selling knockoffs of established brands on Amazon.

The lawsuits are now coming

This behavior was tolerated as the price of doing business with the world’s largest online retailer, but companies are getting testy with lawsuits as Amazon expands its brands with over a hundred new products in the last two years. The latest example is Amazon’s “Rivet” furniture line that Williams-Sonoma (WSI) claims is “strikingly similar” to WSI’s West Elm brand.

According to news, this line includes a $300 orb chair that has been on the market for two years and earned WSI millions in revenue. The suit claims: "It is implausible Amazon could have conceived of a product line with nearly identical product designs which feature product names containing the very same non-descriptive terms WSI uses in connection with these products, other than by intentionally undertaking to copy WSI’s West Elm product line."

Insult to injury using search engine keywords

In a modern twist, the suit alleges that Amazon is also using information gathered by searches of other companies’ products on its website to create similar keywords that enable consumers to find products created by Amazon. Not only can Amazon use the same keywords that apply to products on its site, it applies that strategy to advertisement on Google.

Apple and other major players have already accused Amazon of this type of deception and are fighting back. It appears that as Amazon’s retail products get more sophisticated and expensive, the greater the likelihood that companies will fight back. The problem is that the online retailer may see the suits as worthwhile unless the lawsuits make the retailer pay dearly.

Attorneys can help

Intellectual property attorneys protect more than just products. Businesses that are using similar keywords and online marketing strategies should be held accountable, particularly if they are attempting to sell inferior products at a cheaper price. Businesses who suspect competitors (or partners) of this behavior would be wise to consult an intellectual property attorney to see if they have legal recourse to protect their products.

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