If you’re starting up your own clothing line, you’ll have put hours and hours into designing, creating and branding your products. And as any experienced designer will tell you, it’s imperative to consider trademarking your products. From a legal perspective, this is what makes your brand a brand — and also what keeps it safe from copycats. Particularly today, in the age of fast fashion, many independent fashion brands find their designs copied by big players in the fast fashion industry. It is important to protect yourself and your intellectual property.
Navigating this process may seem tough, but we’re here to help. Let’s explore how trademarking can help boost your clothing line and offer protection as well as how to register a trademark of your own.
What is trademarking?
In short, a trademark is a sign that distinguishes one company’s product or service from another. We can easily tell one brand’s t-shirt apart from another — even if the garments themselves are quite similar — because the former will have a different logo or design to the other. This logo will typically be trademarked, and gives customers a guarantee of receiving the quality they expect from their preferred manufacturer.
You’ll also likely have seen the registered trademark symbol placed alongside trademarks on countless occasions (e.g. Companies Made Simple®).
That being said, trademarks can be applied to any of the following:
- Any combination of the above
As a fashion line creator, you’ll likely be most interested in trademarking brand names, collection names, logos maybe even a colour – think Tiffany Blue. Let’s take a closer look at how your clothing line can benefit from trademarking.
How does a clothing brand benefit from trademarking?
The key motivation for registering a trademark is to reduce the risk of counterfeiters ripping off your designs. If you become aware that someone is doing this, having the trademark in place gives you protection and will enable you to pursue legal action.
What’s more, with a trademark, you’ll also be able to put the ® symbol next to your brand, which tells others not to use it. It also makes it possible for you to sell or license the brand to another party.
Even if you don’t end up having to settle any legal disputes with counterfeiters, trademarking is probably worth the effort for your peace of mind alone. Once you’ve registered a trademark, it’ll be set in stone for the next ten years.
The only real downsides to trademarking are the time and costs involved. Applications usually take around four months to process — and potentially far longer if someone raises an objection. The costs of registering a trademark can also become off-puttingly high for smaller businesses.
How to register a trademark
If you’ve already weighed up the pros and cons of registering a trademark and decided to go ahead and protect your brand, here’s the info you need to know about the trademark application:
Disclaimer: the following information is correct to the time of writing (July, 2023) before making an application refer to the UKIPO website for any updates to the prices and process.
Each nation manages trademarking through its own International Property Office (in the UK, ours is called The Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom — or UKIPO for short).
You can complete the trademark registration, renew or manage a UK trademark via their website. Registering a trademark for one product class costs £200, and then an added £50 for every additional class you wish to apply the trademark to — where product classes refer to the types of product to which trademarks can be applied. In terms of fashion products, these range from ankle boots and ascots to waistcoats and wetsuits.
Every national International Property Office comes under the umbrella of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations agency founded in 1967 “to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world”.
The only nations not currently signed up to WIPO are the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands, South Sudan and Palestine.
There are two options for registering an international trademark with WIPO:
- Apply via WIPO’s Madrid System: with this option, businesses can file a single application and pay one set of fees to apply for protection in the 117 countries covered by the System.
- Apply via UKIPO: this option also uses the Madrid System, and the same WIPO fees will apply. You’ll also have to pay a £40 admin fee to UKIPO.
International trademark fees start from 653 Swiss francs (that’s equivalent to about £575 at the time of writing), so we’d only advise going down this route if you plan on selling plenty of garments overseas.
Rules and regulations to bear in mind
It’s important to remember that you won’t necessarily be successful in registering a trademark simply because you’ve submitted your application — there are also various rules and regulations you’ll need to fulfil. Some of the key criteria for clothing lines include:
- Don’t use offensive words or imagery.
- Don’t mislead customers (e.g. by including the word ‘homemade’ in a fast fashion brand name.
- Don’t use images resembling existing state symbols like flags and hallmarks.
For obvious reasons, it’s also crucial that your trademark is not too similar to any existing ones. You can find out whether this is the case by completing a trademark search with the UKIPO Trade Mark Database (if you’re trademarking in the UK ) or if you’re registering an international trademark, by using WIPO’s Global Brand Database.
Enforcing your trademark
Ultimate, responsibility for enforcing a trademark — including identifying infringements and reporting them via a local trading standards service — rests with the trademark owner. Major fashion companies often employ specialist intellectual property solicitors to manage their infringement cases, so it’s important to be careful.
Is your clothing line set up and ready to go?
Trademarking is just one part of the process fashion entrepreneurs must go through to set up as a legitimate business. From the registration process for a limited company to getting your accounting in order, we can help with the whole process.