Intellectual property (IP) is a term that refers to the creations of the human mind, such as inventions, artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images. IP rights are the legal rights that protect these creations and allow their owners to benefit from them.
E-tailers, or online retailers, need to be aware of IP rights for two main reasons: to avoid infringing on other people’s IP and to protect their own IP.
Avoiding IP Infringement
E-tailers should be careful not to violate someone else’s IP rights when they create and operate their online stores. This can help them avoid legal problems, such as lawsuits, cease and desist letters, damages and injunctions.
Some common types of IP infringement that e-tailers should avoid are:
This occurs when an e-tailer uses a word, phrase, symbol or design that is identical or confusingly similar to another party’s trademark without authorization. Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish the source of goods or services. For example, if an e-tailer sells shoes under the name “Nikke”, this could infringe on Nike’s trademark.
To avoid trademark infringement, e-tailers should conduct a thorough trademark search before choosing a name for their online store, product or service. They should also avoid using trademarks that are well-known or famous, even if they are not related to their business. For instance, using “Apple” for selling fruits could still infringe on Apple’s trademark.
Copyright infringement happens when an e-tailer copies or uses someone else’s original work of authorship without permission. Copyrights protect works such as books, music, movies, software, photos and web content. For example, if an e-tailer copies and pastes product descriptions, images or code from another website, this could infringe on the copyright owner’s rights.
In order to avoid copyright infringement, online retailers should create their own original content for their online store or obtain a license from the copyright owner to use their content. It is also important to avoid selling counterfeit or pirated goods that are unauthorized copies of someone else’s products.
Patent infringement can occur when an online retailer makes, uses, sells or offers for sale a product or process that is covered by someone else’s patent without authorization. Patents protect inventions, methods and processes that are new, useful and non-obvious. For example, if an e-tailer sells a device that performs the same function as a patented invention, this could infringe on the patent owner’s rights.
E-tailers should conduct a patent search before launching a new product or service that involves an invention or innovation in order to better avoid patent infringement. It is also important to consult with a patent attorney to determine if they need to obtain a license from the patent owner or design around the patent.
Protecting Your Own IP
Online store owners should also take steps to protect their own IP rights and prevent others from copying or misusing their creations. This can help them maintain their competitive edge, enhance their brand reputation and generate revenue from their IP.
Some common ways to protect your own IP are:
Registering your IP
E-tailers can register their trademarks, copyrights and patents with the relevant authorities to obtain legal protection and exclusive rights over their IP. Registration can also help them enforce their rights against infringers and deter potential infringers.
Displaying your IP notices
Online retailers can display notices on their online store and products that indicate their ownership and claim over their IP. For example, they can use symbols such as ® for registered trademarks, © for copyrights and ™ for unregistered trademarks. They can also include statements such as “All rights reserved” or “Patent pending.”
Monitoring your IP
Beyond merely registering your IP, e-commerce providers can also monitor the online marketplaces and platforms where they sell their products or services to detect any unauthorized use or infringement of their IP. They can also use tools such as Google Alerts, social media platforms and online databases to track any mentions or references of their IP.
Enforcing your IP
When or if someone does infringe on an e-tailer’s IP, they can take action against those infringers by sending them cease and desist letters, filing complaints with the online platforms or authorities or initiating legal action. They can also seek remedies such as injunctions, damages or account of profits.
IP is an important asset for e-tailers who want to succeed in the online retail industry. By understanding and respecting IP rights, online retailers can avoid legal troubles, protect their own creations and gain a competitive advantage. E-commerce store owners should consult with IP professionals to obtain advice and assistance on IP matters. Contact us today to discuss your intellectual property concerns.