Another tale from the VERO department hell that is eBay. In this case its a US company trying to claim there copyrights stand in the UK, when the UK patent office people are saying its a generic item. Anyhow the end result due to the incompetent fools that run eBay is one mans business gone just like that in 24hrs and yet he did nothing wrong.
Vero to zero in one eBay step
Nici Smith has been trading on eBay for more than three years, running a successful shop selling gifts, gadgets and novelty items. Then, overnight, everything she had worked so hard to build was taken away from her – by an eBay program supposed to fight fraud and fakes.
On December 13th 2006 my eBay business gadgets-and-gifts-uk was shut down overnight by theVeRO department at eBay for a trademark infringement. The company who had challenged my business was based in America, and the infringement? Well, that would be an alleged breech of copyright over a light shaped like a part-melted ice cube.
After shaking, crying, ranting and raving, I eventually calmed down and took matters in hand. Thankfully I am a member of the Federation of Small Businesses so I was able to use their free legal advice line to assist.
The rights owner was, in all fairness, very helpful; he was horrified that his VeRO infringement notices had closed my business during the busiest trading week of the year . He had only wanted the offending listings to be removed. So he employed his UK lawyer to contact VeRO to try and sort the situation out. The lawyer wrote urgent e-mails to VeRO to no avail, and could not believe that a department of this nature had no publicly available contact numbers at all.
I was informed later that allegedly the rights owner had just lost an EU court battle to stop my supplier from selling the product I had bought. The UK patent office said that it would be impossible to claim a UK patent for a light up ice cube and virtually impossible to claim UK copyright for a partially melted ice cube as the design is too generic. This VeRO was nothing to do with trademark infringement; it was all about market share.
To cut a very long story short, the business sat out its suspension, and re-opened a week later. When my eBay account was reinstated, everything had gone. All my listings had simply vanished, my shop had been closed and everything had to be redone from scratch. A few days before Christmas, I wanted to be packing my last couple of parcels and putting my feet up, not trying to rescue my income from Hurricane VeRO.
This wasn’t my first run in with VeRO. I have had a few over the past 12 months. Unfortunately, the first you hear about the possibility that you are infringing a trademark, for an item you’ve bought from a UK supplier in good faith, is when it is removed from eBay. By this time, the black mark has already gone against your ID. I have never wilfully infringed any trademark, patent or copyright and have always complied and removed offending items. Not one VeRO has been for counterfeit or fake goods which is what the program was intended for. All have been for market manipulation. VeRO don’t get involved in the decision as to whether your item infringes a trademark; they simply remove the listing on the instruction of the person claiming to be the rights owner. And unfortunately I don’t have the finances to challenge eBay legally.
I contacted VeRO to ask them what will happen the next time I am VeRO’d, which will happen I am sure, because more and more companies are using the VeRO program to control the marketplace. The answer? Suspension again, possibly for two weeks, possibly indefinitely. So I have had to make the difficult decision to wind down and eventually close the eBay ID gadgets-and-gifts-uk with nearly 4,500 positive feedback at 99.9% positive. VeRO destroyed this business.
eBay needs to recognise that businesses operating within its infrastructure should be given proper levels of support – a dedicated business support unit for example – if it wants businesses to continue to grow on the site.
The VeRO system needs a complete overhaul to meet the demands of the changing face of eBay. eBay is no longer a site used solely by people to sell of their unwanted items. It is an online Global trading platform for businesses all over the world. VeRO is being abused by some of the big brands to control the marketplace. The ‘guilty until proven innocent’ style of listing terminations not only goes against the foundation of English law where you are innocent until proven guilty, but also the very foundations of eBay where the founder believed that people are generally honest. My recommendations for change in the VeRO process would be a telephone support line for businesses to the VeRO department, and to stop suspending eBay accounts on the basis of an unverified source.
There are also grave concerns from Privacy International about the offering of personal information to VeRO participants. This is even more worrying to know that eBay don’t even verify the VeRO members and it is common knowledge within the EBay business community that there people who use the VeRO system fraudulently.
eBay Powersellers in the UK staged a small protest a couple of weeks ago to raise this issue with eBay and the response has been extremely disappointing. It took days for the eBay legal team to offer a response to our complaints: their answer was that the VeRO system is fine as it is.
As for me, I’m abandoning an ID I worked hard to grow. I have reinvested in a brand new websitewww.gadgetsandgiftsuk.com, which had its first sale yesterday (under 2 weeks from launch) and I have a presence on Tazbar as well as a couple of smaller eBay IDs. My business will survive, but without the major eBay component I had once planned.