I’ve mentioned the challenges we have had selecting a Skill name in a previous post about creating our first Alexa Skill. Now that we have two approved skills; Scrybe and Fantasy Scoreboard, it’s worth revisiting the topic to highlight the lessons we have learned along the way. The Invocation Name Guidelines provide a good starting point when picking your skill name, but our experience uncovered a few more rules.
After the first couple certification attempts, selecting a name for an Alexa Skill seemed as hard as finding a nice and affordable .com domain name. For a Store with, at the time, less than 500 Skills, that was surprising.
Smooth and Memorable
The first two requirements from Amazon are:
“A name that is memorable and relates to the functionality you have implemented”
“The name should fit smoothly into the “ask” and “tell” patterns for beginning a conversation”
These two criteria are what we focused on most when selecting a Skill name during our design meetings. These criteria alone are already fairly limiting, but it should be your main focus to make your Skill easy to use and to retain users.
Can Alexa Understand?
Secondly, there is a list of requirements that focus on ensuring that Alexa can reliably understand the invocation name:
“at least two syllables and no longer than three words, contain only well-known English words or names, easy to pronounce correctly, contain only alphabetic characters and spaces between words, don’t overlap with how users engage with Alexa’s built-in services.”
That part is fair enough. For the user experience of your Skill to be good, you need a name that works well all the time.
The last documented requirement is about IP protection:
“may not infringe upon the intellectual property rights of Amazon or any other person or entity”
Obviously, nobody is against IP protection. However, when we got this rejection message we were surprised:
“Protecting intellectual property rights is important to us. Please provide documentation demonstrating that you have the right to use Scribe’s IP. The documentation must be either a confirmation letter from the intellectual property rights holder or a copy of the applicable license. Otherwise, please edit your title and invocation name in order to no longer imply sponsorship. We recommend modifying your title to imply it is “for” the IP.”
Turns out that the main IP focus here is the trademark. The way it is applied is that the Skill display name cannot use any name that is trademarked in the US.
The way we choose to verify this is to do a North American trademark search using a Basic Word Mark Search through the US patent and trademark office at http://tess2.uspto.gov/. If there are no records found for the display name of the Skill, from what we have seen, you are good to go.
Not Too Generic
Although not listed in the guidelines, these criteria were also raised using the review process:
“invocation name is generic and may cause customer confusion”
The full feedback message was:
“Thank you for investing your time to build an Alexa skill. Upon testing your skill, your invocation name is generic and may cause customer confusion. We request that you choose a new invocation name for your skill which is unique to your skill’s identity and consists of 2–3 words.”
That is an extension of the documented guidelines. Although two syllables are what the guidelines mandates, it might be safer to brainstorm with names of two words when you search for a name for your Skill.
During the certification of our Skills, a few of those rules caught us. Here are some specific examples that were rejected, and our process to get the Skills approved.
Dash -> Amazon dash
The first name we submitted with was “Dash”. We should have known that the Amazon button is named the Amazon dash. Our bad on this one.
Scribe -> IP violation
Then we re-submitted our SMS Skill with Scribe. Turns out that it’s trademarked. From that experience, we learned to search the US patent and trademark office… turns out that Dash also matches a lot of records too.
Scryb -> Not English
We thought we were clever on this one. After attending the Developer Office Hours, we changed the name to be spelled as Scryb so it does not violate the trademark. Well, turns out it’s not an English word, so although it works for the invocation name, we could not use it.
Scryb + Scribe -> Approved!
We were lucky enough to find someone to talk to the certification team on our behalf, and they accepted for us to use Scryb for the display name along with scribe as the invocation name. Seems the trademark protection is more sensitive for the spelling of the display name, than for the invocation name.
Fantasy Scoreboard Skill
Scoreboard -> To generic
For the Fantasy Scoreboard Skill we first tried Scoreboard, which was denied as too generic with the response above.
Fantasy Scoreboard -> Approved
So we used the full company name of the product instead. Fantasy Scoreboard was accepted without a confirmation we could use the trademark. Our guess is that it is because the US patent and trademark office does not have a record for it.