Copycats: Trying to Stop Knockoffs on Amazon
What would you do if your life’s work - potentially everything, the whole kit and kaboodle was being threatened? InstaTrim, the business my wife and I own, has recently been under attack by copycat products from China. We have always heard these types of things can happen but never would have imagined it could happen to us.
It started out slowly and quietly.
One day, one of us noticed a new type of flexible trim product for sale on Amazon but we weren’t concerned since we were still dominating the Amazon Marketplace. When a customer searched for any type of flexible trim, molding or caulk strip on Amazon, our products covered the entire first page of listings.
Fast forward approximately two months. Things changed quickly and we saw several companies selling products that closely resembled our self-adhesive, bendable molding strips on Amazon in the USA. This got our attention quickly. We dug in and found that there were more than 40 sellers on Amazon copying our design, colors, and sizes - causing our items to be buried among the knock-off products. This has resulted in a low presence on Amazon and ultimately lower sales.
The decision to patent our design was one of the best decisions we’ve made, starting with the first patent in 2012. The patent process is expensive and takes a long time, but it is what protects companies against just this kind of thing. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize just how important this process is and decide to skip this step to save money and time. We can attest that going that extra mile is very much worth it in the end.
To-date, we have been awarded six patents and continue to file for more. It is truly amazing how fast a copycat product can negatively affect your business. Without intellectual property (patents and trademarks) in place, there is very little any company can do to deter copy-cat sellers except try to out-advertise the competition.
When we began the patent process, we made the decision to keep the patents in the USA because that is where we intend to sell the bulk of our products. This means that we are automatically protected against anyone else copying our design. Unfortunately, this does not protect us from companies in other countries making similar products that closely resemble our flexible trim.
When looking into the counterfeiters on Amazon we discovered they are all coming from China. Fortunately, Amazon has its own patent violation program called APEX. This allows sellers who believe that their patent has been infringed on can file a case with Amazon and the companies in violation must respond to a notice or their product listings will be removed immediately.
Time will tell how effective this program will be for us. We’ve discovered that many of these sellers will just create new listings on Amazon using a different company name and new product numbers. We never imagined that this would be a game we would have to play. But if we look on the bright side, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?