Retail giant Amazon is again under legal scrutiny for some of its business practices. According to Fortune, furniture retailer Williams Sonoma has accused Amazon of creating “strikingly similar” designs to some of its West Elm furniture pieces. As a result, Williams Sonoma filed a trademark and patent infringement against the online retailer in San Francisco.
Amazon is accused of copying popular West Elm chairs
Amazon recently launched a furniture line called Rivet. The Williams Sonoma lawsuit alleges the Rivet line features several products nearly identical to West Elm designs, including a popular item known as the orb chair. Three of the designs Amazon allegedly copied were designed in-house at West Elm and account for about $8 million in revenue for the first ten months of 2018.
The lawsuit also accuses Amazon of using nearly identical terms in the descriptions for these lookalike products. Williams Sonoma states this is further proof the retail giant was copying West Elm products.
Amazon may be using search to create cheaper knockoffs
The accusations reveal the power of Amazon’s product search features. If someone searches for a chair by West Elm but cannot find it on Amazon, the retailer can use these search results to create new product offerings. A former Amazon executive stated the company can have manufacturers create a close proximity of the searched-for product and offer it slightly cheaper, as long as the design is different enough not to violate the patent.
Whether the designs in question infringe on Williams Sonoma’s patents and trademarks is yet to be determined.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recognizes three types of patents. A utility patent protects an invention of a useful process, machine, way to manufacture or a composition of matter. A design patent protects a new, original design created for manufacturing. A plant patent protects an invention or discovery of a distinct or new type of plant.
You can sue someone who infringes on your patent
According to the USPTO, patent protection prevents anyone else from making, using, trying to sell or selling your patented item. If a patent is infringed on, the patent owner may file a patent infringement lawsuit against the accused party. Their suit can request the accused stop infringing on the patent, and the patent owner may also request damages.
Typically, a defendant will argue the patent is invalid, or their product is not an infringement. It is up to the patent holder to prove infringement occurred. This can be complex to do, so if you are facing patent infringement, you will likely want to enlist legal counsel to help build your case.