Neil Lassen

Today we’re featuring a guest post here at the Lawinspiring blog. We invited Neil Lassen, the founder of Merch Informer, to talk about how he uses Trademarkia to clear t-shirt designs. He and his business partner created an innovative new software to help keep entrepreneurs selling t-shirts from inadvertently infringing on others’ designs.  We met Neil about a month ago when he was featured on CNBC, and we invited him to blog with us today.

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When we started selling t-shirts on Amazon through the Merch by Amazon program, little did we know that a year later we would be creating a software for other content creators to help find inspiration and markets that were selling well. What we found when we launched Merch Informer is that trademarks and IP law were actually at the center of our business. You can find all the designs and inspiration you want, but if you infringe on someone else’s work, you could be looking at a banned account or worse, a lawsuit. Let’s take a look at how the t-shirt environment has changed over the last year on Amazon and what we are doing to keep people safe.

Merch by Amazon launched a little over a year ago. This was not big news. In fact, almost no one had heard about it because it was specifically designed as a print on demand t-shirt service for app developers only. Word spread quickly from the few people that did hear about it to other designers and entrepreneurs.

The first few months the program was free to join with no restrictions. As soon as more people started to join, Amazon made the decision to close the doors and become invite only. You could sign up, but would be put on a waiting list and receive an email when you were accepted. In some cases, this time period extended for up to 9 months.

Waiting periods kept increasing over time as Amazon was having bigger issues keeping up with demand. Demand was not the only thing that started to become an issue though. Slowly but surely, people took to the forums to complain about other sellers copying their design and undercutting their prices. At this point, all t-shirts were auto processed and put live for sale on Amazon without a human element. This was becoming a large problem for Amazon and they decided to implement a manual review process.

When uploading a shirt design, if some of the text you wrote in the title, bullet points, or description triggered their software, then your design would be put into a manual review where an Amazon employee would take a look and either approve or deny your submission. This sounds great for the content creators! The problem is, designs only got a manual review if the text that was being written triggered a review.

This led to people blatantly abusing the system. In order to get copyright protected designs through, they would start using dashes to get protected designs through the review system. They would look something like this:

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Amazon clearly realized this to be a massive problem and has been working on fixing it.

With the rise in popularity of Merch though, IP infringement has become a big problem for content creators who want to play by the rules (and the law!). People are filing trademarks on common phrases that people already have shirt designs on Amazon about. As a Merch content creator, you have to keep up with these trademarks to make sure you are in compliance. The last thing you want to do is be removed from such a great money making opportunity because you were ignorant of what was going on.

The above reason is probably one of the largest of why we decided to integrate Trademarkia into our Merch Software. If you find a niche where designs are selling well, with the click of a button you can check to see if those words are trademarked and you might want to stay away from. If not, you know you are in the clear to create better designs in a hot selling market. You might even find that people have put in new applications for trademarks but they have not gone through yet.

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Amazon has one more problem to figure out and that is people taking designs and coping them pixel for pixel while undercutting the original content creator. So far, there is no way to combat this internally and it is left up to the content creator to police their designs and send copyright infringement notices to Amazon when they do show up.

While our software allows you to find niches that are selling well, and check copyright, it is important not to copy other successful products. You can innovate and create something better for a hot market and outsell your competition. Just make sure you are in compliance and building a long lasting business.

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