Do I Need to Trademark My Clothing Lines?

by Victoria McGrath

    A clothing line owner automatically gains trademark rights in its name, logo and slogan. Trademarks include any unique mark, word, sign or symbol associated with the company's clothing line products and services. The trademark owner may use the original mark on its clothing in a fashion show, clothing display, online store or any marketing materials in order to automatically qualify for trademark rights and protection. State and federal trademark registration are optional. In addition to trademark rights, a clothing line also holds copyrights in its clothing designs, fabric prints and graphic artwork. Copyright registration can deter other clothing labels from illegally copying a clothing line's designs and selling them as their own.

    Trademarks Identify Clothing Line Garments

    Clothing lines need to protect their business names, logos and slogans as valuable trademarks. A clothing line must use a unique and original name, logo and slogan in order to gain trademark protection. Merely descriptive or generic names cannot be trademarked. Once a clothing line chooses its name, logo and slogan, these trademarks become a part of the clothing line's identity. Easily recognizable trademarks help distinguish the clothing line's products from its competitors. Strong trademarks build brand loyalty from consumers who seek consistent quality and value.

    Three Ways to Secure Trademarks

    A clothing line can secure trademarks in three different ways: through use in commercial trade, state registration and federal registration. State registration of a trademark creates a public record and provides notice to any competitors that the trademark is in use within the region and not available. Federal registration provides exclusive ownership rights to the registered owner and a right to sue in federal court. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also maintains a federal database of trademarks.

    Federal Trademark Registration

    The federal registration process requires the trademark owner to sign an affidavit attesting to the date it first used the trademark. The date of first use determines who qualifies as the legal owner. Only the legal owner can apply for federal trademark registration. The owner must provide a drawing of the mark and a sample of the garment. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office checks the trademark application against its database of registered marks. It rejects later applications for the same or similar marks submitted by earlier applicants.

    Similar and Confusing Trademarks

    A clothing label must avoid the use of marks that are the same as or similar to the marks of other labels. If a name or logo is too similar to an established clothing line trademark, it may cause confusion among the public. If more than one clothing line uses the same name or logo, the trademark loses all its value. It no longer serves as a trademark to identify a specific clothing line of garments. Thus, the legal owner potentially loses all ownership rights in the trademark.

    Clothing Line Trademarks and Copyrights

    Trademarks do not cover clothing designs, patterns or artwork – they need copyright protection instead. A clothing line automatically owns the copyrights in its designs, patterns and artwork as soon as it creates the work and fixes it in a tangible form. A tangible form refers to any physical documentation, such as a designer's sketch or a sewing pattern. Many designs and patterns qualify for federal copyright and are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as pictorial, graphic and sculptural works.

    About the Author

    Based in Los Angeles, Victoria McGrath has been writing law-related articles since 2004. She specializes in intellectual property, copyright and trademark law. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Arizona, College of Law. McGrath pursued both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts at University of California, Los Angeles, in film and television production. Her work has been published in the Daily Bruin and La Gente Newsmagazine.

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