Last year, the shift of consumers toward online shopping has exponentially increased since the pandemic began. All around the country, companies large and small were forced to rapidly change focus to the online marketplace. However, the increase in demand for online shopping has, unfortunately, caused businesses to face another threat—the rise of counterfeit goods.
What is a counterfeit good?
Counterfeit goods deceive consumers into believing the goods the consumer purchases come from the legitimate brand owner. Often times, counterfeit sellers use confusingly similar brand names and product designs as those of legitimate goods.
Counterfeit goods not only affect a brand’s bottom line but can also severely affect the brand’s reputation and goodwill. Companies invest significant time and money into building a brand and its accompanying goodwill. However, it only takes a few “bad apples” to destroy a brand’s reputation. As you can imagine, an unsuspecting consumer who unintentionally buys an inferior counterfeit product thinking it was the legitimate brand will take its frustration out on the legitimate brand owner not realizing they actually purchased a counterfeit product.
How can brands protect against counterfeit goods?
Find a Trademark Attorney You Can Trust
One of the most important things you can do as a brand owner is to find an experienced trademark attorney. A trademark attorney that not only knows the law but also understands your business and its needs are critical. In fact, a trademark attorney should not be a money drain on your business. Rather, they should be a valuable asset and investment that you can count on to protect your brand and its reputation.
Identify and Register Your Trademarks
Protecting and enforcing your intellectual property early and often helps ensures that your brand remains on top. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, design, or combinations thereof that consumers use to identify your products.
Oftentimes, brands have one than one trademark they can protect. Most commonly, this is a brand’s name (standard character mark) and logo (design mark). In most situations, it is wise to first protect your name and then pursue protection on your design–especially if money is tight.
Next, once you have identified what your brand’s trademarks are you can then move on to registering them. Specifically, registering a trademark is done through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, commonly abbreviated as USPTO. Registering your brand through the USPTO provides a plethora of critically important benefits, including:
- Granting you national rights to use and enforce your brand;
- Federal trademark registration provides constructive notice to potential infringers;
- Trademarks registered with the USPTO are presumed valid;
- After five (5) years of continuous use, federally registered trademarks can become incontestable; and
- Having a federally registered trademark allows you to bring a trademark infringement suit in federal court;
- Your registration can be used to prevent the registration of confusingly similar trademarks.
Amazon Brand Registry
In the age of online shopping, one of the most important benefits of having a federal trademark registration is access to Amazon’s Brand Registry (“Brand Registry”). Brand registry is a powerful tool that allows trademark holders to access automated tools to monitor and proactively remove infringing and inaccurate content, such as by counterfeit sellers.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
As an added benefit of federal registration, trademark holders can register their brand with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”). Specifically, by registering your brand with CBP brand owners can provide border agents with the information necessary to identify and stop counterfeit goods from entering the USA. If border agents identify potentially infringing content, they will immediately flag the shipment and notify brand owners. Brands even have the ability to train border agents in how to spot counterfeit goods of their brands. Overall, this program helps cast a net around the country to prevent counterfeit goods from entering the country and harming your brand.
Trademark Watch Services
Lastly, trademark owners should strongly consider subscribing to a trademark watch service to monitor newly filed trademark applications. By actively monitoring USPTO filings, trademark owners have the ability to proactively protest the registration of a trademark they believe to be confusingly similar. By ensuring that similar trademarks do not register, brand owners protect their brand against dilution. Trademark watch services can also be an effective way to monitor what their competitors are doing and stay one step ahead of the competition.
Overall, there are several important benefits of having a registered trademark. In particular, trademark registration opens the flood gates to a plethora of enforcement tools raging from CBP, Brand Registry, and national trademark protection. In fact, one of the most harmful things you can do as a brand owner is not to register your trademark. You simply cannot afford not to.
A trademark watch service actively monitors trademark applications filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for applications that are confusingly similar to your registered trademark.
Amazon Brand Registry is a powerful program offered by Amazon to help brand owners remove products that violate your brands valuable trademark rights.