North America Team of the Year: Amazon.com
Earlier this year, Amazon surpassed technology giants Apple and Google to be ranked as the world’s most valuable brand. Following recent moves into new sectors – including healthcare and physical retail – Amazon’s brand skyrocketed to the value of $150 billion, an annual rise of 40%, according to Brand Finance. “Jeff Bezos once said that ‘brands are more important online than they are in the physical world’,” states brand value expert David Haigh. “He has proved himself right by choosing the name Amazon, known as the largest, most powerful river in the world, as 23 years later the Amazon brand carries all before it as an unstoppable force.”
The work of Amazon’s trademark department is a key contributor to building this unprecedented brand value. The Seattle-based team is part of the company’s overall legal organisation led by David Zapolsky, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary, and is responsible for a broad variety of matters, including trademarks, domain names, copyright, content protection and the company’s gTLD registry.
“We align ourselves with business areas to be sure we are closely connected on goals and strategic plans,” states Dana Brown Northcott, Amazon’s associate general counsel, intellectual property, who adds that all strategies begin with one consideration: “One of our company philosophies is to ‘start with the customer and work backwards’, and that’s how we approach intellectual property as well. We think holistically to be sure we’re considering the customer impact of the decisions we make.”
As well as the customer-centric approach to enforcement, Northcott reveals another of the department’s mantras: “A successful strategy is rooted in looking forward. If we see there will be a product or service expansion, we obviously need to take that into account so we are sure the business is able to operate and reach customers.”
Unsurprisingly, the trademark team’s workload is vast – both in terms of attaining sufficient protection around the world and countering infringement. Its ability to conduct this work effectively is down to Amazon’s leadership principle of “Hire and Develop the Best”. Northcott observes that the team is balanced “in experience and energy” with “different depths of technical skills and company knowledge”. This means, she adds, that they are “well placed to confidently address new matters”.
In addition to being well structured, Northcott explains that the brand protection crew enjoy working together – whether within the department or with colleagues across the wider company. “We have fun together,” she remarks. “We look for ways to work cross-functionally depending on related business topics or by pairing more experienced team members with new colleagues. We think it’s also important to be integrated with our organisation as a whole – we make smarter decisions when we’re working together and jointly understand the bigger picture.”
It is not just internal collaboration that the department focuses on – Amazon has also sought relationships with those in the industry. For example, it was a founding member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which aims to address the challenge of online piracy. This collaborative effort has been growing leaps and bounds, and demonstrates the power of multi-corporation action against IP infringement. “Online piracy poses a significant – and rapidly evolving – threat to creators and consumers around the world,” Northcott reminds us. “ACE is a unique effort that unites content creators in the common mission of helping consumers to maximise their online experience and reducing the illicit and illegal acts of online piracy that harm the thriving digital space.”
There is little doubt that the retail giant will continue to grow in the coming years, with innovation at the heart of its operations. Amazon’s drone deliveries – once the concept of a sci-fi film – are nearly a reality, promising to transform the way that consumers shop. But innovation means the need for intellectual property, and Northcott and her team will be kept increasingly busy in the years ahead.
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