Copycats, Illegal Counterfeiters, and Amazon - What to do in a nightmare situation
In May, earlier this year I woke up to a Google alert about a manufacturer in China that was illegally producing replica Runbells and selling them for a fraction of our price. We bought one to test and the shipment came directly from China.
They copied our Runbell almost exactly. They photocopied our packaging so the look was the same but instead of a clear, crisp photo on the front, they had a blurred version. On the side they even included the text "Made in Tokyo" while slapping a clear, hard to read, "Made in China" sticker on the back.
Opening the package, we found our beautifully designed Runbell recreated with obvious flaws. Their silicone inserts were random. Instead of two pairs of different sizes, we received one of one size and three of another. The spring was weak and flimsy. The overall weight was heavier as they switched out lightweight aluminum and used a heavier zinc alloy. The switched out the hex screw for a simple Phillips screw.
A month later Runbells began to appear on Amazon. First, just one seller and then dozens. Amazon, the great enabler of fake counterfeiters, gave us little recourse. Instead of focusing on increasing sales, we got slogged down in fighting the illegal sellers.
Luckily for us, we have Runbell both trademarked and patented in the United States. Therefore, illegal copycats are very much illegal. We used Amazon's Report Infringement page which is a clunky, but mostly effective way to report crime on their site. Many times their staff would remark they did not see our trademark violated in the illegal seller's Amazon page. For one example check out this illegal seller. We had about a 70% chance of getting a listing removed on the first try.
The latest debacle was when an illegal seller listed their product on our LaunchPad product page and set the price low enough to win the buy button. I wrote to Amazon repeatedly and all without any corrective action. Here we had an inferior, illegal product selling under our branded Amazon page. I even got into an email exchange with the illegal seller who acted like some dimwit who didn't know what breaking intellectual property law meant. They really believed they were doing nothing illegal. They continued to sell on Amazon for weeks.
Finally, we signed up for Brand Registry, a new system on Amazon to protect your brand. You need to have a registered trademark. (As a side note, we used Upwork to find help with our registry which was cheaper than a typical law firm.) You also need to show this trademark used on your product.
After a week or so wait, we were finally approved for Amazon's Brand Registry and kicked off Shopi Hut from selling on our Amazon page.
Countless articles repeat similar situations:
All these articles touched on the exact fight we have had for the past months.
Fortunately for Runbell we have worked with Amazon through Launchpad which has given us a direct contact at Amazon. Melanie walked me through how to fight the counterfeiters and had us sign up for Brand Registry. Without her help, I would have been lost and very much depressed. I hope Brand Registry lives up to the hype around it.
If you are manufacturing a new product on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc., then please please do the following steps:
- Create a brand name and logo
- Register your logo with the United States Trademark and Patent Office (get help on this step)
- Add your logo to your product directly as well as the packaging. The more locations to add your logo the better.
- Register your trademark with US Border and Customs. Illegal inventory might get seized at the border (no luck for us yet) (get help on this step)
- Register for Brand Registry on Amazon. Counterfeiters will be selling on Amazon if you don't so do it.
We thought we were small fries and not at risk to Chinese copycats. Should I be honored that Runbell is worthy of cheap reproductions? I'm not. Don't be. It's a terrible feeling to see years of hard work being stolen from you.
We value the craftsmanship that we have put into Runbell. In Japan, we have worked with absolutely fantastic small family owned operations who care about their product. If you have a product that you love, it's heartbreaking to see someone get away with stealing your product design, logo, marketing photos, etc.
Do you have any ideas to stop illegal Chinese products? Let us know in the comments!
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