December 20, 2018
Last week the kitchenware and home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma (WSI) filed suit against Amazon in the U.S. District Court’s Northern California district (Williams-Sonoma Inc. v. Amazon.com Inc., 18-cv-07548). The WSI complaint alleges that Amazon’s Rivet furniture line includes a number of products that are strikingly similar in appearance to three West Elm chairs: the Orb chair and Slope dining and office chairs.
West Elm is a WSI-owned brand, along with Pottery Barn, PBteen, and Williams-Sonoma, among others. WSI operates 600-plus retail stores worldwide plus multiple websites.
In the filing WSI argues that, “It is implausible Amazon could have conceived of a product line with nearly identical product designs which feature product names containing the very same non-descriptive terms WSI uses in connection with these products, other than by intentionally undertaking to copy WSI’s West Elm product line."
Amazon, which now accounts for roughly half of all U.S. ecommerce sales, has been steadily expanding its own “store-brand” offerings. Thus far the online behemoth has introduced batteries, baby wipes, phone chargers, clothing, toys and high-end furniture. According to TJI Research, 100 of Amazon’s 120 brands were introduced in only the past two years.
Given Amazon’s current course the WSI lawsuit might be a harbinger of things to come. To one degree or another most major manufacturers rely on Amazon to help consumers’ find their branded goods. But at the same time brand owners strive to protect the intellectual property, including product designs, that sets their brands apart from generic or lookalike competition. Companies already critical of Amazon’s efforts to combat counterfeit products will be none too pleased to see Amazon assume the role of a direct competitor.
This ecommerce news update is presented by Butcher Block Co. - the leading online dealer of John Boos wood and stainless steel products, including wood countertops and kitchen islands, carts and tables.
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