Legal / Regulatory


Stay compliant, protect your IP and turn regulatory challenges into opportunities.

The rules for online sellers vary widely depending on which country you’re selling into. Learning about the various local issues, including internet consumer privacy and protection laws, protecting your IP in a “first-to-file” country, certifying your products for direct-to-consumer delivery and fulfilling your local tax liabilities are vital for the success of your global ecommerce business. While we cover a few basic questions here and aggregate our interviews with real industry experts and fellow merchants on how they tackle these issues further below, it is important that you consult with lawyers to ensure you’re doing everything correctly before you begin processing sales. (Basically, don’t take our word for it.)

  1. What are some of the rules I will encounter?

Some of the main legal concerns of global ecommerce sellers include consumer data privacy, consumer protection, internet intermediary liability and payment protection. It’s also important to consider all the ways in which you promote, discuss, and communicate about your business, including your social media posts and website. You need to gather enough information about your visitors to build an effective strategy while complying with local privacy laws. For US/EU data privacy issues, you may want research about what is called “Privacy Shield”. Here is a place to start.

  1. Do I need to publish a privacy policy?

Publishing your privacy policy on your website is mandatory in many places. Having an experienced counsel look at your website to make sure that you’re covering all of the bases will help you to ensure that you don’t get caught in a legal quagmire. There are now “privac policy generators” all over the web but don’t just plug one in or pull from someone else’s site without having a lawyer review it first.

  1. How do I learn about consumer protection rules?

The US Federal Trade Commission has created guidelines for consumer protection in overseas markets for online buyers that have been adopted by the United States and 28 other countries, working together as members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While these are voluntary “codes of conduct,” they are very useful to follow. Here is the FTC guidance for international ecommerce and a list of overseas governments signed in.

  1. What are some of these consumer protection guidelines?

The guidelines provide several principles to follow including the use of fair business, advertising and marketing practices; the provision of accurate, clear and easily accessible information about the company and the goods or services it offers; and the adoption of fair, effective and easy to understand self-regulatory policies and procedures.

  1. How do I find out about copyrights, trademarks and patents in my chosen market?

Intellectual property rights protection is a major issue for U.S. exporters, in light of the significant ongoing IP rights violations in major markets like China and India. These violations seem to rise with the popularity of ecommerce, and as such you should use some of the tools found here from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For China, it is worth noting that it is a “first to file” country, which means, if someone else in China registers your trademark prior to you, regardless of whether you already registered it elsewhere in the world, they own it. There has been successful litegation awarding ownership to a foreign entity despite being a “second to file” entity but it is unique. The good news is that it is relatively cheap to register your IP in China and even the large law-firms offer low cost for the actual registeration as a lead generator for future business. If you do own the rights to your brand in China, you should watch this video on how to use Alibaba’s new self-service AliProtect platform. Yes, it is produced by Alibaba but we have met TJ Scimone in person and he appears to be a straight shooter.