His testimony came as Amazon puts more muscle behind efforts to grapple with this scourge and hold not-so-honest third-party sellers accountable, including an enhanced seller vetting program and a Counterfeit Crimes Unit. It also recently partnered with two high-profile brands—healthcare, safety and consumer goods conglomerate 3M and designer Valentino—on seller lawsuits. (In response to a query about the 3M suit, an Amazon spokesperson said the platform has demonstrated a “clear and consistent stance against price gouging and counterfeiting.”)
We’ve seen these lawsuits before: Since 2018, Amazon has partnered with at least three brands on five cases. And while these brands generally seem pleased with the outcome, the cases, which in many ways mirror the current lawsuits, help illustrate just how hard it is to hold Amazon sellers accountable—even with Amazon’s help.
Amazon.com and Vera Bradley Designs Inc. v. Linda Kurth
Take, for example, handbag designer Vera Bradley, which partnered with Amazon on three lawsuits against sellers of counterfeit products in 2018. In one case, Amazon.com and Vera Bradley Designs Inc. v. Linda Kurth, court documents show the plaintiffs were awarded a default judgment because the defendant never responded.
Court documents also show all three cases resulted in injunctions, which prevent the defendants from selling the brand’s products and/or from selling on Amazon. But the complaints also included John Does 1-10 as placeholders for any additional parties, and, in some cases, even the named defendants aren’t clear. In Amazon.com and Vera Bradley Designs Inc. v. Wei “Tony” Jiang et al, the complaint includes 18 such defendants with descriptions such as, “Defendant Wei ‘Tony’ Jiang, d/b/a ‘Tony Springs,’ is either an individual who resides in Texas or is an ‘a/k/a’ or alter ego for one or more of the other Defendants identified in this Complaint.”
What’s more, as of April 19, 2019, the case was settled and dismissed, but court documents show mail to Jiang was returned unopened. And it’s not clear how brands or even Amazon can prevent a hard-to-find seller from reappearing on the platform under a different name. Amazon did not respond by deadline. Daren Garcia, a partner on the eControl team at law firm Vorys, surmised there may be a way to stop sellers through the merchant IDs they use on the platform, but he acknowledged he does not have inside knowledge.
Julia Bentley, vice president of investor relations and employee communications at Vera Bradley, did not comment on whether the injunction has kept the defendants from selling Vera Bradley products or from selling on Amazon—or whether Amazon paid the brand’s legal fees.
“Since , we have seen a significant reduction in counterfeit selling activity on the Amazon platform,” she wrote in an email.
Amazon.com and Otter Products LLC v. Ngullen Alejandro Rivera et al
John Does 1-10 were also included in electronics accessory brand Otter Products’ 2018 case.
“Lawyers will add Doe parties to lawsuits as essentially placeholders,” Garcia said. “What they’re saying is, ‘We believe there likely may be additional bad actors, but we don’t know or are unsure about their identity and will use the discovery process to find that information with regard to who ought to be an additional party and then amend our complaint to add them.”
According to Kevin McPherson, senior director of brand protection at Otter Products, Amazon approached the brand because it was removing listings connected to a large seller of counterfeit goods. He said Amazon’s advice was to sue—and it offered to cover legal fees and hand over any money recovered.
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