The history: Amazon and your brand rights

Like many businesses, your value to the consumer is bound up in your brand name and other intellectual property that supports it. Your brand is the channel through which you speak to the consumer, communicating value and accentuating differentiation. And because you alone own the rights to your brand name, it’s a steady lever of control you have over how your products play in the marketplace, even when they’re in the hands of merchant partners.

How do your brand rights work on Amazon, though? Well, it’s complicated.

That’s not to say that Amazon hasn’t come a long way in helping rights owners protect their brands, though. For many years, the Amazon marketplace was essentially a free-for-all. Anyone could create a product page, and almost anyone could edit an existing page for any brand’s products. This extreme “open marketplace” arrangement was of a piece with Amazon’s interest in building its catalog, fostering competition among sellers and between brands, and creating downward pressure on prices. Low prices, in turn, established Amazon as a destination shopping site for merchandise of all kinds.

The radical openness created problems though, for Amazon and its customers. The catalog got messy—a single product could have multiple product pages—and product page merchandising, because control of it could fall to unsophisticated resellers, sometimes suffered. Furthermore, Amazon was accused by brands of facilitating the theft of their intellectual property. After all, if I take a copyrighted image from your brand website and use it to sell your product on Amazon, without your expressed permission, am I not violating your IP? Overall, the environment was such that brands’ willingness to invest in business on Amazon was in danger, precisely because they couldn’t control brand there.

Amazon’s response to this was to create its Amazon Brand Registry service. This debuted in 2015 and was rebooted and broadened in 2017. Amazon describes enrollment in Brand Registry as providing “a suite of tools designed to help you grow and protect your brand,” and enrollment is open to any brand that has a valid trademark for its brand name.

Understanding Brand Registry

Brand Registry ties the ability to create a product page under a certain brand name, or edit such a page, to an account that has the valid trademark for that brand name, supplied by the brand owner. After a brand owner registers a brand with Amazon, he or she (or a designated representative) can also report intellectual property violations—of copyright, trademark, or patent—and supply evidence to Amazon to enable it to remove IP-offending product listings.

For smaller and newer brands, the need for a registered trademark in order to become Brand Registered can be an obstacle. Amazon has recently lessened this burden somewhat by making in-process applications and not only finalized, but also published trademarks valid for a Brand Registry application, as long as you’re applying through certain national trademark offices (among them the US and Canada). In all, Amazon accepts trademarks approved by the government offices of 20 different countries plus the European Union office.

A further help for new brands is Amazon’s IP Accelerator program. IP Accelerator lets you connect with IP law firms that Amazon has vetted and who offer competitive rates to file your trademark application, and so allow you to avoid what can be a confusing and cumbersome process. You can contract with them for other work as well, such as searches for existing trademarks that might block your application.

Over the last several years, Amazon has rolled out several new capabilities to Seller Central users, but made these contingent on an active Brand Registry account. Among these are A+ Content (formerly known as Enhanced Brand Content), which lets brands add additional images and text to their product pages; Brand Analytics, which gives brands deeper data on the demographics of their buyers and purchase behavior of their shoppers; and Amazon Vine, which allows brands to give away samples of their products to reviewers, so that they can more quickly accumulate product reviews on their pages.

These additional benefits mean that without Brand Registry, a brand on Amazon isn’t just missing an opportunity to control and protect its image and intellectual property; it’s losing out on functionality that can help it compete on the platform. The full suite of functionalities enabled by Brand-Registered status has become something close to necessary for winning on Amazon.

What Brand Registry isn’t

Sounds good? Don’t get too excited.

There are a lot of needs that fall under the heading of brand protection, and many brands might have channel control and price control at the top of their lists, rather than intellectual property control. Having control of who sells your products is crucial to guaranteeing consumers’ positive experience of them, and so those consumers’ experience of your brand. If sellers on your Amazon product pages are not authorized by you to be there, you may consider that a brand liability. And then, if you’ve instituted MAP for your brand and sellers are breaking your MAPs, your brand’s value to retail and resale partners on other channels can be significantly diminished.

Brand Registry, regrettably, won’t help with those issues. It can’t be used to remove sellers from your listings—at least ones not violating your IP—and it can’t be used to enforce MAP. To understand why, it’s essential to conceive of Brand Registry as a way for Amazon to leverage brands’ interest in brand protection for Amazon’s own goals, which may only partially coincide with your brand’s goals. Remember, before Brand Registry, Amazon had a problem—with page content, catalog sprawl, brand confidence in the platform, and legal challenges for its possibly enabling IP infringement.

Brand Registry helps solve some of your problems, but first, it helps you solve Amazon’s problems. You, the brand, add value for Amazon’s shopper by investing in and maintaining good product page content and policing its catalog. And by taking on the responsibility for flagging counterfeit merchandise and misused IP, you alleviate Amazon of specific possible legal duties to your brand.

What does Amazon not regard as one of its problems? Price competition for your products. Being the most significant e-commerce marketplace helps Amazon attract the most on-platform competition between brands and any particular product. Competition pushes prices down; low prices attract shoppers. Amazon has constructed Brand Registry to preserve that competition. If your MAP for a product is $29.99 and a seller on your Brand-Registered product page is offering it for $25.73…you need a solution outside of Brand Registry to deal with that problem.

What to do about MAP violators and unwelcome sellers

For Amazon brand protection that includes control over who sells your products and at what price, you need solutions complementary to Brand Registry—that originate outside of Amazon and serve your particular priorities.

That seller offering your $29.99 MAPped product at $25.73—do you know who they are? Ideally, your distribution practices are tight enough that you’re familiar with any dealer who might list your goods on Amazon. If so, then fixing the problem might entail nothing more than a simple email or two, asking the seller to please comply with your MAP as a condition of your ongoing business relationship.

And if you don’t know the seller—well, how much stock are they offering on Amazon? Most brands, as they grow, will see unknown sellers pop onto their pages, at least occasionally. This foretells less of a disruption if the seller is only offering a unit or two—maybe a gift they received that they don’t want, or some small quantity of liquidated inventory they happened upon, or merchandise they found the opportunity to arbitrage from a different sales channel. (Keepa is one service that can easy reveal stock levels of third-party sellers.)

But if you have an unknown seller with a lot of your inventory—especially one who seems to be able to replenish his supply—you likely have a distribution leak enabling a diversion of your product from the channels you’d like to dedicate it to. How to get to the bottom of this problem? If you have serial numbers or other production codes on your products, you can do a test buy and try to tie the merchandise to a particular wholesale order or production run. If you sell through distributors, you can ask them to help you identify—and communicate with—any customer of theirs that might be responsible for the diversion.

You can also try to contact an Amazon seller via the business name, address, and phone number shown on that seller’s account page, which Amazon recently started publishing in an effort to make it harder for sellers to stay anonymous. Though, more than a few unsavory sellers have found ways to game this system and evade communication. And a seller that doesn’t want to be identified can’t be expected to care about your MAP policy or your brand protection priorities.

MAP Policy Partners can step into this gap by doing the detective work to identify unknown sellers—and then communicating with them through written materials approved by you, the brand owner. And before that point, MAP Policy Partners can help you craft an airtight MAP policy, so that you can be assured of your position enforcing your MAP, and communicate about your policy precisely and appropriately.

In summary, Amazon brand protection requires strategy, work, and more than one service and partner. Sign up for Amazon Brand Registry to help you combat IP violations and control your brand’s representation on Amazon, and hire the pros for a MAP policy and enforcement plan that lets you regain channel and price control from resellers.