It’s back to court for Zippo Manufacturing Co. This time the iconic butane business has set its legal sights on LightInTheBox Holding — a Chinese manufacturer selling similar products.
Zippo’s 2017 Counterfeit Lawsuit: Chinese Counterfeit Case
What can you do when competitors copy? One option is filing an intellectual property lawsuit.
In this case, Zippo is slapping LightInTheBox with trademark and patent claims for allegedly lifting its “windproof design.”
According to the claim (we’re paraphrasing), LightInTheBox’s knockoff products have catapulted the lighter niche into a fugue state, causing mass consumer confusion among people in hot pursuit if incendiary devices.
Zippo Is A Notoriously Guarded About Its Intellectual Property
This isn’t Zippo’s first time at the infringement rodeo. The company enjoys a reputation for fighting business battles with intellectual property swords. Sometimes the cases are solid, other times, not so much.
So, what about this case? Does it have merit?
It’s tough to say. At the time of this writing, we still don’t know the specifics of Zippo’s patents and trademarks — nor are we privy to either side’s evidence. So, why blog about the case, despite a lack of currently available details? Because it serves as a reminder that e-commerce counterfeiting is on the rise and affecting businesses, both big and small.
Winning A Patent and Trademark Lawsuit: What You Need To Prove
The law is a many splendid nuanced thing. Legal advice doesn’t come in “one-size-fits-all.” As such, if you think your copyright, trademark, or patent is in jeopardy, talk to a lawyer — because small details (seemingly innocuous to a non-legally trained eye) can make all the difference.
Caveats aside, two goal posts apply in all U.S. intellectual property lawsuits.
- Intention. To win intellectual property claims, plaintiffs must prove that the defendants purposefully purloined a mark, patent, tagline, design, et cetera to confuse the public…intentionally.
- Profit. Theft, alone, is not enough to win an intellectual property case. Plaintiffs must also prove that adversaries materially benefited on account of the appropriation or infringement.
Discouraging Counterfeiters: A Handful Of How-To Suggestions
- Use product websites as educational tools. Include a section listing legitimate resellers. Delineate how to spot knockoffs. Remember: When we know better, we do better.
- Customize product packaging. This serves two purposes. First, unique packaging sets brands apartment from counterfeit efforts. Second, pointing out the difference in an A-to-Z claims can prove your case.
- Take advantage of Amazon’s brand registry — even if you don’t sell on Amazon. The program is not equivalent to formal government registration, but every brand — huge or minuscule — should do it. Remember, Amazon is one of the world’s leading retailers; alerting them to your brand is, ultimately, a plus. Besides, once you let Amazon know about you, it can help keep an eye out for counterfeiters.
- Vet your heart out! Dig into every supply chain vendor (hire an intern if you have to!). Ask questions in the community; folks are typically more than willing to out a scammer. This may be the most important step in your e-commerce business venture. With solid partners, things tend to go more smoothly.
Need Help With An Amazon Counterfeit Issue?
Dealing with a frustrating e-commerce counterfeit situation? We can help. Kelly / Warner assists online sellers and marketers with everything from business formation to payment processing to account and counterfeit setbacks.