Amazon Fights ASIN Hijacking

As Amazon has experienced exponential growth since its inception, it has had to wrestle with new and emerging issues in technology and intellectual property law.

One of the more recent issues has been ASIN hijacking.  ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number.  The Amazon Standard Identification Number is a 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier assigned by Amazon and its partners to products for easy and uniform identification within the Amazon organization.  Other similarly used identifiers are the Universal Product Code, which is a twelve-digit bar code used in the United States or the European Article Number (“EAN”), which is a 12-13-digit product identification code used in Europe.

Amazon used to guarantee that the numbers used were unique internationally, but now ASINs can only be guaranteed to be unique within a specific country’s market.  This means that different ASINs may refer to the same product in different markets.  This practice contrasts with other identifiers such as the International Standard Book Number (“ISBN”), which guarantees identical number usage regardless of the marketplace.

ASIN hijacking refers to the unsanctioned use of intentionally attaching ASIN numbers to counterfeit products to make quick profits off of a pre-established brand owner’s goodwill.   While both large and small brand owners have been victim to the problem, technology giant, Apple, has brought renewed interest in the problem by filing a lawsuit against Amazon supplier, Mobile Star.

Mobile Star sells several Apple products through the Amazon Marketplace, marking their products with ASIN numbers that correspond with genuine Apple products.  In safety tests, however, Apple found that a large majority of the 100 iPhone chargers, devices, and Lightning cables purchased through Amazon failed routine safety checks.

In their lawsuit, Apple noted that the products were not only counterfeits but were also extremely dangerous.  The poor craftmanship and lack of adequate electrical insulation in some of the products could not only cause some of the devices to catch fire but were also of fatally shocking users as well.

Amazon’s seller portals are also filled with threads from smaller brand owners that request help or complain of ASIN hijacking.  Many brand owners note that, within 72 hours of listing a product, they often return to find that the product page, product descriptions, and product price of their products have been changed to reroute buyers to counterfeit listings.

In response, Amazon notes that they actively respond to requests for takedowns and provide several channels for brand owners to file complains.  Despite this, however, brand owners feel that the damage done by counterfeits renders Amazon’s response to be too little and too late.  With inventory often being time-sensitive, ASIN hijacking often results in lost profits and unjustified negative reviews on the bona-fide seller’s page.

In the meantime, until Amazon finds a better way to police ASIN hijacking, experts note that sellers should consult intellectual property counsel to determine how best to protect their brand and their assets.  For example, some brand owners may want to consider including watermarks in their official media shots or attempt to incorporate brand names into molds or as part of the manufacturing process.  Online retailers may also want to consider utilizing third-party watch services that track suspicious listings and alert the brand owners when new and unauthorizing listings come online.

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