Amazon's Pandemic Boom Is Fueling Record Backlogs At The US Trademark Office – Forbes

Businesses are chasing the pandemic e-commerce boom, flooding the trademark office with applications for unpronounceable names like QPNGRP, BULAXXOOO and HWYDTGS.
Two years into the pandemic, Amazon’s sales boom is still sending a crush of new online businesses straight to the trademark office. Many of them are looking to protect against knockoff products by reserving company names, some of them unpronounceable, like QPNGRP, BULAXXOOO and HWYDTGS—and causing prolonged, record delays.
“To say there’s sand in the gears at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is a bit of an understatement,” said Josh Gerben, founding partner of Gerben Perrott PLLC, which has filed over 10,000 trademarks since 2008, many for Amazon sellers. “We’ve never had delays like this . . . and it’s gotten a heck of a lot worse lately.”
Wait times are twice as long as normal, with the government warning that it will take an average of six months for an attorney to even look at an application, up from three months. Once you factor in the review and approval process, the total wait time is typically over a year, up from eight or nine months.
The number of applications rose 30% last year, driven by “the increase in online sales, and the increase in registrations that go along with online sales,” said Drew Hirshfeld, acting director of the USPTO, in a November speech.
In other words, businesses are chasing the e-commerce boom. Amazon, the country’s largest online retailer, has seen its marketplace nearly double in the last two years, with third-party sellers moving more than $390 billion worth of goods last year, up from $200 billion in 2019, according to Marketplace Pulse. Third-party sellers, mostly comprised of small- and medium-size businesses, now account for a record 56% of unit sales on Amazon.
A lot of those sellers come from China, with trademark applications from the country jumping to 48,000 in 2020, from 37,000 in 2019 and 8,000 in 2010, according to the most recent data available from the USPTO. Of the top sellers on Amazon, 37% were based in China at the end of last year, according to Marketplace Pulse.
Many have names that look like they were created by a password generator, such as QPNGRP, HWYDTGS and BULAXXOOO, making them hard to pronounce but easy to fast-track for trademark approval, since they are unlikely to be mistaken for other brands.
Once on Amazon, these brands jockey for positive reviews and search rankings, hoping to convince shoppers to pick their ankle socks, swim goggles or bike pumps over the dozens of seemingly identical options from other brands.
Chinese brand BULAXXOO recently received approval for its trademark, which is intended to cover a smattering of products, including alarm clocks, brooches and sports watches. Now, does anyone really think somebody is going to come along and try to sell counterfeit watches under the BULAXXOOO brand name, in the same way someone might try to sell fake Rolexes? It’s unlikely.
But counterfeiting has been an issue for many sellers, prompting Amazon to step up efforts to fight it on the site. In 2017, it launched a brand registry program to give them sellers control over their product listing pages, including the ability to block sales of unauthorized versions of products. To join the program, sellers must provide proof that they filed a trademark application.
The brand registry program also unlocks various benefits, giving sellers more powerful tools around marketing and analytics. “You get all sorts of superpowers,” Gerben said. Amazon also offers new sellers who enroll in the brand registry the chance to earn up to $50,000 in bonuses and discounts.
“You now have a market incentive that is completely divorced from the traditional trademark sense,” said Andriy Lytvyn, a trademark attorney at Smith & Hopen. “There’s been a huge shift in the entire practice of trademark law. Amazon has completely changed the game.”


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