Brand Protection on Amazon: Design & Utility Patent Rights

Brand Protection on Amazon: Patent Rights

Patents are effective tools for brand protection, especially in a global retail environment full of copycat sellers.

Both utility patent infringement and design patent infringement are rampant on Amazon.com. As such, Amazon brand managers should ensure they understand exactly what their patent rights cover and how to know when their rights are truly infringed. Further, any brand asserting complaints for patent infringement on Amazon should take caution to ensure they are properly enforcing their intellectual property to avoid the consequences of filing false claims.

What is a patent?

A patent is a license issued by the government. This license can apply to a specific technology, a design, or an invention. The license states that the individual or entity assigned to a registered patent is allowed to exclude anyone else from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing their invention, for a limited amount of time. For Amazon brands, patents generally come into play in relation to physical products.

There are two types of patents that can apply to most products: utility patents and design patents. It is important to understand the difference between these two types of patents because they protect completely different product features.

What product features does a utility patent protect?

A utility patent only protects the function of a product. Essentially, a utility patent gives an inventor exclusive rights over what the product does, or how it works. Utility patent protection can sometimes include the function, placement, configuration and interaction of the products parts. The exact scope of the protected invention is described in the patent’s claims.

Utility patent infringement occurs when another seller has copied your invention, so that their product performs the exact same function described in your patent claims. Utility patent infringement can still exist even if the infringer’s product does not look like your patented product. Since utility patents can sometimes be very technical, it requires close observation to determine whether infringement exists. As such, Amazon now offers a neutral patent evaluation program to help Amazon brands and sellers resolve utility patent disputes without having to spend the time and money it takes to litigate in court.

What product features does a design patent protect?

Design patents are a type of industrial design right. A design patent protects the ornamental features of an otherwise functional product, but it does not protect any functional or utilitarian features of the product at all. A design patent may cover the configuration or shape of an article, the surface ornamentation of the article, or both. The style or “look” of a pair of sunglasses or a piece of furniture are good examples of items that may be best protected by a design patent.

Design patent infringement is difficult to prove because protections are often construed only to cover the exact design. Design patent infringement only occurs if the ornamental design of another seller’s product is so similar to your patented design that an ordinary observer, who is familiar with prior art, could not tell the difference between the two products and are likely to choose the infringing product assuming it to be the patented product.

Design patents are very cost efficient and effective tools to help develop your brand’s overall look in the minds of consumers and prevent others from copying your designs and stealing your sales.

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