A prime market
On October 1, 2019, Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Intellectual Property Accelerator (IP Accelerator) in a post by its vice president of worldwide customer trust and partner support, Dharmesh Mehta. Geared toward small and midsize businesses, the IP Accelerator is designed to connect sellers who use Amazon’s marketplace with designated IP law firms that can help them apply for U.S. trademarks for their brand and products. (Once a seller has applied for a trademark through the IP Accelerator, Amazon may also offer additional “brand protection” measures through its Brand Registry, like screening for potentially fraudulent listings and greater autonomy over product details as they appear on the website.) According to Amazon, the goal is to encourage sellers to bolster their intellectual property and brand rights. As some commentators have pointed out, however, this also represents a potentially significant foray into the legal services market for the massive technology company.
The IP Accelerator is found on Amazon’s Service Provider Network, which includes a disclaimer that all listings—legal services or otherwise—are intended as informational resources. For the IP Accelerator, those resources include a list of (currently) 11 specific law firms, all offering three specific services at prenegotiated rates. Quoting the IP Accelerator’s FAQ page, those services include:
- A high-level brand search of Trademark Office records for relevant pending applications or registrations (maximum service fee: $500)
- A comprehensive brand review including Trademark Office records and unregistered uses (maximum service fee: $1,800)
- Filing a U.S. trademark application (maximum service fee: $600, plus government fees)
“Amazon has vetted the participating IP law firms for experience, expertise, and customer service,” Mehta notes in his blog post announcing the launch. Notably, Amazon sellers, who are all potential clients of these 11 law firms, are given the ability to vet the firms themselves within the IP Accelerator by browsing what resembles, in many ways, a typical Amazon marketplace experience (see image below). Verified customers of the IP Accelerator firms may issue ratings between one and five stars as well as post open-ended reviews describing their experiences. The law firms list their areas of specialization, the languages in which their services are available, as well as some branding of their own that might include the firm’s full name, logo, and other marketing material. Amazon sellers are not able to purchase legal services directly through the IP Accelerator but instead have the option to “Contact Provider” if interested—an option that is available only to sellers in particular countries and users with valid merchant accounts.
Amazon draws a clear connection between the IP Accelerator and small and midsize businesses protecting their brand, with Mehta touting the program’s appeal in a statement to the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Small Business earlier this month. Amazon’s basic argument: trademarking is good for their sellers and good for the health of its marketplace, and the IP Accelerator is a means of connecting sellers with legal service providers prepared to offer those solutions.
It should be noted that Amazon does not require sellers to use any of the 11 law firms to join its Brand Registry—the requirement is only that the seller has a trademark (or a trademark application filed through the IP Accelerator). What impact this type of law firm referral will have on the market for legal services, however, remains to be seen. By some estimates, there are nearly 3 million active sellers on Amazon, which has curated a list of just 11 law firms it recommends at discounted rates. This entire initiative raises questions. What methodologies did the technology juggernaut use to vet its IP Accelerator law firms and how does it define quality? What role do client reviews play regarding what firms remain on the list? How were rates determined? Does Amazon use any of these law firms for its own IP work? Is IP the only type of legal service that will receive this treatment, or will all of us soon be able to shop for any legal service on Amazon?