15 thoughts on “The problem of Amazon Basics

  1. 6

    Word to the wise: secure your design patent(s) and an early supplemental TM registration for the product configuration.

  2. 5

    This video is great. And it’s a fun issue-spotting distraction when I should be doing something else.

    The video makes a compelling case that Amazon is freeriding. At about the 15-second mark, the video helpfully lists things Amazon didn’t pay for:
    1. “years of research and development”
    2. “recycled bluesign-approved material”
    3. “a lifetime warranty”
    4. “fairly paid factory workers”
    5. “and total carbon neutrality”
    Then (I’ll call it item #6) at the 43-second mark there’s the discussion of how the Amazon version uses cheaper components.

    The main message of the video seems to be that these six things are worth paying for, so the consumer should prefer the “Peak Design” sling (presumably at a higher price) over the Amazon Basics sling. It also illustrates the potential power of trademarks. If someone watches this video, then sees the “peak design” logo on a product, the logo will convey the six points above. Hooray for trademarks and advertising.

    When I see the video on an IP blog, it suggests the question whether there’s anything wrong with Amazon freeriding and not “paying” for those six things.

    I think items 2-6 are to some extent market responses to social problems.

    2 , 4 & 5. Certifications like “bluesign” and “b-corporation” (and the carbon-neutral logo) developed, I think, to try to create market incentives for companies to make things more responsibly. If done right, the certifications efficiently convey to consumers that the company went out of its way to pay its workers fairly, use recycled materials, and minimize pollution in the manufacturing process. If consumers are so inclined, they can factor that information into their purchasing decisions. And if the certifications are well-known and displayed on the products, consumers can also buy the products to virtue-signal (I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense). Presumably “bluesign,” “b-corporation,” and the carbon-neutral certification logo are copyrighted and/or trademarked, and represent the potential use of IP to further social goals. When it criticizes Amazon for not having these certifications, it (a) suggests that these things are worth paying for, and (b) potentially raises issues that go beyond IP law, e.g., environmental laws, labor laws, and offshore manufacturing.

    3. “Lifetime warranty” is a simple contract term. Companies can choose whether to offer it, and price accordingly. Consumers can consider the absence or presence of a lifetime warranty in deciding whether the price is worth it. Contract laws and consumer protection laws set minimum standards (e.g., implied warranty of merchantability), and sellers can choose to offer more.

    6. Same with cheaper components. Like many consumer goods, it’s probably a good thing that consumers have options between higher-priced higher-quality things and lower-priced lower-quality things. Do you want a piece of furniture that could be in your family for generations, or do you just need a serviceable desk for your dorm room or apartment for three years of law school? Do you want a large-ish fanny pack that should last for years, or do you just need something that won’t fall apart for a few days while you’re on a trip? Contract and tort law set minimum standards, and sellers can choose to offer more.

    That leaves #1, “research and development,” and raises the question of what’s patentable or otherwise IP-protectable about the design of the sling bag. The video suggests that the bag is well designed but doesn’t say much else. Either “peak design” needs to get some patents, or consumers should want to pay a premium for well-designed but unpatentable/unpatented things, or some third thing needs to happen.

    1. 5.1

      Given the universal experience of inventors since at least the AIA, it is likely that Peak Design didn’t bother purchasing phony patents from the USPTO, despite their novel and useful invention. They are hacking the IP system. Good for them.

      1. 5.1.1

        Peak Design has multiple issued patents, both utility and design patents, that cover many aspects of the their products.


          Interesting. If Amazon is infringing Peak Design patents with its Basics sling, then maybe that’s the answer.

  3. 4

    This is great progress. It’s all about branding and image. Much more productive than trying to obtain and enforce a patent for their “new and useful manufacture”. Now can we repeal the broken Patent Act that doles out competition-blocking franchises to big corporations?

  4. 3

    I don’t get it. They’re complaining about being copied while highlighting all the ways Amazon didn’t copy them?

    1. 3.1

      They copied the “design” (as in the design that they likely got a design patent on, not a standard utility patent). In the vid they do copy the design just not the functional choices of materials etc.

  5. 2

    Can’t this video be made for every store brand in your local grocery store?

    But seriously, this is just a form of price discrimination and is a basic economic concept. Even without the data analytics of Amazon, the Zaras and the H&Ms of the world have been doing this forever. Same with your Safeways and Krogers. The video highlights the differences that justify the higher price of the name brand bag. Some people will value that, some people won’t. Let’s not just throw away a basic economic principle just because we can’t make every single dollar out there.

  6. 1

    This same video could be made for many inventions that Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and others rip off and just incorporate into their products with no fear of a patent lawsuit with the death squads having their back.

    1. 1.1

      NW, competition in products not protected by any intellectual property laws has been consistently held legally and publicly desirable even before our Constitution provided two limited exceptions for federal legislative enactments. So, the initial question must be whether or not this copied bag product was protected by patents, trade dress, trademarks or copyrights. “House brand” product copies of brand name products are widely sold by many major retailers. Whether Amazon is in a monopoly laws position restricting their conduct in that respect is an antitrust issue, not an IPL issue.

      1. 1.1.1

        BTW, any new product promoter watching the TV “Shark Tank” program should have learned that by now just from listening to the potential investors questions.

      2. 1.1.3

        I guess you missed my point Paul. The inventions that are supposedly being protected by patents are “enjoying” the same level of copying as the products that are not protected by IP.


          NW, since this blog is intended to be IPL educational [even though misused by some for personal attacks], and is read by people who have not been patent attorneys, please appreciate that my responses are written for the latter.
          Yes, patent enforcement is, and always has been, expensive and difficult, but definitely better than making or selling products with no IPL protection at all. Lawsuits get counted, but what is never counted is the many times in which companies make a decision NOT to copy a product after noting that it is patented. I, and I suspect you, have been involved several in such decisions.

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