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Intellectual Property and the Fashion Industry

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2018 | intellectual property law

The success of every fashion-based company is built upon their intellectual property. Without intellectual property protection, prominent fashion designers and suppliers would die out, simply overwhelmed by the clones and copies that are selling for a fraction of the price.

As you are launching your fashion business, be sure you are well-protected by including the following components to your intellectual property portfolio.


Copyrights protect your original ideas, as long as they have no physical function in the real world. While the U.S. Copyright Office decided a century ago that clothing cannot be copyrighted (since it is a functional item), there are certain aspects of your business that do fall under copyright.

Jewelry, for instance, does fall under copyright protection, as it serves no functional purpose and is purely decorative. Your 2-dimensional materials are also protected under copyright law – including any prints, photos, catalogs and some marketing materials.


While you can’t copyright clothing, there is a workaround you could take. Trademarks protect your logo, label and brand. While they’re essential to protect your brand on a global level, to prevent counterfeit labels, they can also protect the item of clothing itself.

Have you wondered why so many brands plaster their logo on the outside of their clothing? From Abercrombie to Gucci, brands do this for a reason. By including your logo on the clothing itself, you can at least ensure that another business cannot steal the full design of your clothing.


Patents are uncommon in the fashion industry, but still may be useful to your business. Unlike copyrights, patents mostly cover novel and revolutionary innovations in the industry – like the zipper, or Velcro.

For typical clothing, patents offer little protection. For footwear and some accessories, however, patents can be vital. If your shoe is designed in an innovative way that allows the wearer to run faster and jump higher, for instance, that design may be eligible for a patent.

Trade Secrets

While other forms of intellectual property are used to protect your brand, product or a component of your product, trade secrets often protect the process of creating and distributing your product.

Trade secrets can include anything from a list of vendors and suppliers to a specific production process that speeds up manufacturing. It can also include your future business strategy, as well as any product launches you have planned.

These strategies and processes are unique to your business, and are protected by trade secret laws. This encourages fashion designers to discover new and innovative methods to produce their product, without the risk of having that innovation stolen by another fashion company.

An intellectual property portfolio is incomplete without all four of these elements. Securing and protecting your intellectual property is possibly the most important step to establishing your fashion business in today’s marketplace.