Alternatives to Patents for Protecting Amazon Products

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney

I know that one of the primary challenges Amazon sellers have to deal with is protecting their intellectual property. As such, many turn to patents. However, patents can be costly, and the process time-consuming.

Through my years of interacting with Amazon sellers, I’ve helped several explore various other options they can explore for product protection. 

My aim in this article is to walk you through alternatives to patents for protecting Amazon products and the extent of protection these alternatives afford. 

Alternatives to Patents for Protecting Amazon Products 

With millions of products available to consumers at the click of a button, standing out amidst the competition on Amazon requires more than just selling good products. You need to implement working strategies to protect your intellectual property. While patents are often seen as the best way to do this, the application process can be time-consuming and expensive. 

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This makes it inaccessible to many Amazon sellers, particularly those operating on tight budgets. Thankfully, there are alternative routes you can take to protect your products on the platform. These alternatives are less expensive, faster to acquire, and may provide reasonable protection for your intellectual property

What Are Patents?

A patent is a government-granted right (Title 35 of the United States Code) that gives inventors the exclusive authority to control their inventions’ use, manufacture, and distribution. These exclusive rights are granted for a limited period, typically 20 years from the filing date. To obtain a patent, you must file a patent application with the patent office of your country, for which you would need a patent lawyer

There are different types of patents; however, the most common are:

As an Amazon seller, patenting your products ensures that no other seller can list said products without your authorization. If they do, they are committing patent infringement, and you have the right to pursue legal action against them. You would typically need an experienced patent lawyer for this process.

Drawbacks of Patents for Amazon Sellers 

As an Amazon seller, patents offer a range of benefits that can contribute to your success on the platform. Some of these benefits include: 

  • Exclusive rights to products
  • Ability to differentiate your products from competitors by highlighting their unique features or functionalities
  • Reduced competition and increased ability to command higher prices for your products 
  • Ability to seek legal recourse against competitors who infringe on your intellectual property rights

Despite these significant advantages, however, patents also come with several drawbacks that Amazon sellers must consider. They include: 

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Costly and Time-Consuming Process

Getting a patent is both expensive and time-consuming. You must invest in patent searches, attorney fees, filing fees, and other application expenses, which can quickly add up. 

Additionally, the application process can take several years from filing to grant, thereby delaying the commercialization of the patented product and tying up resources that could be allocated elsewhere.

Difficult to Enforce

Enforcing your patent rights can be stressful and costly, particularly for small or medium-sized Amazon sellers with limited resources. You may need to foot litigation costs and attorney fees and prove infringement in court. These factors make it difficult to pursue legal action against infringers. 

Disclosure Requirement 

Patent applications require a detailed disclosure of the features and functionality of your product, which becomes publicly available once the patent is granted. This disclosure may give competitors insights into your product, enabling them to design around the patent or develop competing products.

Alternative to Patents 

Having seen some of the challenges that come with patents and patent applications, it’s time to explore the available alternatives. They include: 

Trade Secret Protection

Trade secrets are confidential information that provides a business with a competitive advantage. Unlike patents, trade secrets do not require registration with a government agency, and protection lasts as long as the information remains confidential. To qualify for trade secret protection, the information must be valuable, not generally known, and subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.

Amazon Brand Registry

Amazon Brand Registry offers several tools and resources for sellers to protect their products on the platform. To enroll in the registry, you first have to register your brand trademark, after which you get exclusive access to a suite of brand-building and protection tools. This feature also allows you to directly report infringement or counterfeit listings to Amazon

Warehouse interior showing many boxes and shelves

Trademarks

Trademarks are another widely recognized form of intellectual property protection. They protect brand names, logos, slogans, and other identifiers that distinguish a seller’s products or services from those of competitors. 

As an Amazon seller, you can register trademarks to establish exclusive rights to your brand identity and prevent others from using confusingly similar marks in the same class of goods and services.

Design Rights

Design rights protect a product’s visual appearance or design rather than its functional aspects. If your product has a unique aesthetic feature, such as a shape, pattern, or ornamentation, you can obtain a design right to protect these features. This gives you exclusive rights to use the protected design and prevent others from copying or imitating it. 

Design rights are often quicker and less expensive than patents, making them a great option for sellers with visually distinctive products.

Utility Models

Also referred to as petty patents, utility models are a form of IP protection that offers shorter and less stringent requirements than patents. Similar to patents, utility models provide exclusive rights to inventions. However, they typically do not assess the novelty or inventive step of the product, thereby making the process of getting them much faster. 

Aside from the fewer requirements, utility models are also less expensive than patents to file and maintain. However, they have a shorter life cycle than patents -between 10 and 15 years. If you’re operating in a country that offers utility model protection, you may want to consider this alternative, especially if your product has a short lifecycle.

Contracts and Licensing Agreements

Amazon sellers can protect their IP through contracts and licensing agreements with third parties. By entering into licensing agreements, you can grant others the right to use, manufacture, or distribute your product in exchange for royalties or licensing fees. 

Licensing agreements allow you to expand your market reach and generate more revenue while controlling your intellectual property. The enforceability of these agreements varies by state and depends on the specific terms of the agreement.

First to Market

Being the first to bring a new product to market can give you a competitive advantage and establish brand recognition and customer loyalty. While this is not a formal form of IP protection, the first-mover advantage allows Amazon sellers to capture a major market share and establish themselves as market leaders before competitors can get a similar product out.

By ensuring your manufacturing facilities and distribution channels are fully developed before you launch the product, you will likely have saturated the market before any competition starts.  

Freely Available

Some sellers may choose not to protect their products with formal IP rights and instead freely share their knowledge and technology with the public. This implies that others will be free to use the product for their benefit. This is to stop others from patenting the product, preventing you from using it. 

This strategy is best used when you’re in a rapidly advancing field, and the time it will take to get a patent for the product will considerably reduce its commercial usefulness. Additionally, it allows you to collaborate with others and accelerate innovation without the constraints of IP protection. 

People sitting at a table with their laptops

Trade Dress

Trade dress refers to a product’s visual appearance or packaging that identifies its source and distinguishes it in the marketplace. Trade dress protection extends to elements of a product, such as color schemes and packaging designs, ensuring others do not replicate the overall look of your product.

Related Questions

Can Trade Secrets Protect My Business Well?

Yes, trade secrets can effectively protect your business by safeguarding confidential information that gives you a competitive advantage. Unlike patents, which require public disclosure, trade secrets offer indefinite protection for as long as the secrets remain confidential. 

Some ways to ensure secrecy include non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and restricting access to sensitive information.

What Tools Does Amazon Offer for Brand Protection?

One of the tools that Amazon offers for brand protection is the Amazon Brand Registry, which allows brand owners more control over their product listings and grants them access to enhanced brand protection features. 

Other tools include Amazon Transparency, Amazon Project Zero, and Amazon IP Accelerator, and are geared towards deterring counterfeiting and protecting brand image. 

How Can I Use Trademarks to Protect My Products on Amazon?

To protect your products on Amazon using trademarks, start by registering your brand name, logo, or other identifiers with the relevant trademark authorities. Once registered, enroll in Amazon’s Brand Registry program, which grants access to enhanced brand protection tools. 

Also, consider adding trademark symbols (™ or ®) to your product listings and packaging to deter potential infringers.

Conclusion 

While patents continue to be an effective tool for protecting inventions, Amazon sellers have various options. By leveraging the alternatives discussed above, including trademarks, trade secrets, and brand registry, you can protect your products effectively, enhance your brand value, and reduce the risks of infringement.

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