Firstly, they only care about whether their products can be sold, and they are not concerned if you encounter infringement issues in retail unless there’s a specific agreement. Secondly, they are not intellectual property professionals and cannot provide you with accurate advice. So, to stay out of trouble with infringement, make sure these four points stick in your head.
Before you settle on what to sell, make sure to dig into the product details and do a basic check on intellectual property. Keep in mind, patents take 18 months to show up in searches, so it’s not foolproof, but it’s better than knowing nothing.
Your supplier might be providing the same product to various buyers, leading to many people selling identical products under different brands — this is quite common. It’s best to clarify with your factory or supplier whether the product is their own creation, imitated from others, or an improved version based on existing products. Their original creations won’t run into infringement issues, but for products that are imitated or modified, it’s crucial to conduct a patent search to check if they’ve avoided the original design.
If you’re not customizing the product and buying ready-made ones, try to go for items that many people are selling — it lowers the risk. If there are only one or two sellers offering the product, the risk of infringement is much higher.
Keep an eye on designs, patterns, icons on your products. Lots of them have copyrights, even if they seem super common. For example, the smiley face on my client’s slippers below got them in trouble for copyright infringement, and Amazon took the product down. That smiley face belongs to this company: https://smiley.com/.
- After your product is taken down, check the platform notifications (like eBay/Amazon). You’ll receive information about the infringing product and the complainant’s patent or copyright details. Get an intellectual property lawyer to figure out if your product is genuinely infringing. If the lawyer says there’s no infringement, gather evidence and file an appeal on the platform.
- If your store gets shut down, don’t give up. Appeal to the platform to restore it. Even if the appeal fails, you can still contact the intellectual property owner to settle and withdraw the complaint, or hire an IP lawyer to step in for negotiation. For example, if the complainant is the Smiley company mentioned earlier, you can discuss the possibility of getting copyright authorization to minimize losses.
- If you’re sued and facing a TRO that freezes your account funds, stay calm. Get a lawyer involved to help assess whether there’s infringement, any potential defenses, and how much settlement money might be needed. Honestly, big Amazon sellers often deal with these “patent trolling” situations. It’s when someone exploits patent system loopholes to extort money from you, betting you’ll pay some compensation rather than give up your frozen funds. Plus, because international legal battles are a real headache, these “patent trolls” really like going after imported goods.