It's one of the perils of shopping on
. You see something made by a name brand, like a grill cover from outdoor cooking company Weber. It's listed by a third-party seller, not Weber, but that's so common on Amazon that you don't bat an eye. In some cases, though, sellers have listed counterfeit grill covers, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Amazon and Weber.
Both companies are seeking to impose legal penalties on those sellers if they try to peddle any products on Amazon in the future, and to hold them accountable for breaking counterfeiting laws. The challenge is that neither company knows the sellers' true identities, and the only locations the firms have are business addresses in China provided by the sellers when they signed up with Amazon.
The retail giant's counterfeiting problem is due in part to the open nature of its marketplace, which aims to make it easy for sellers to list products. Critics have argued that Amazon is too reliant on brands to notify it of counterfeits, highlighting a battle over how much Amazon should do proactively to block bad sellers and listings. Being too cautious about who can sell on the marketplace would lower the number of legitimate third-party sellers offering good prices, Amazon has argued. The company does have mechanisms for screening new sellers and says it has stopped illegitimate sellers from joining the marketplace and blocked new counterfeit listings from being posted.
Tuesday's lawsuit aims to register the sellers as bad actors in court, which is part of Amazon's broader strategy to stop known counterfeiters from pushing more shams in the future. Amazon has already blocked the sellers from its marketplace and is asking the court for an order that would let the company bring further legal action if the sellers try to list more goods down the line. Amazon has joined similar lawsuits with other companies, including cooler-maker Yeti, board game company Asmodee, apparel maker HanesBrands and luxury brand Salvatore Ferragamo.
Amazon also offers a brand registry that gives companies access to search and reporting tools for identifying potential counterfeiters and offers a network of intellectual-property lawyers for brands to access, with prenegotiated fees. The company additionally runs an internal counterfeit crimes unit and works in coordination with the National Intellectual Property Rights Center to help prevent counterfeit goods from entering the US.