A clothing brand starts with a unique name, creative logo and catchy slogan. The brand name, logo and slogan serve as trademarks. Trademarks help identify the clothing brand's products and distinguish them from its competitors. The brand may also trademark other distinguishing features that help identify its products in the marketplace. For example, Tiffany's blue color jewelry boxes or Louboutin's red shoe soles qualify as trademark features. Other unique design elements beyond merely functional features may qualify for copyrights. A clothing brand may copyright clothing designs, patterns, artwork and other creative work. As a result, a brand often depends on both trademarks and copyrights to protect its clothing line, products and designs.
A clothing brand initially invests in the development of its intellectual property assets, including trademarks and copyrights. Trademarks specifically cover the brand name and logo associated with the clothes while copyrights generally cover all other creative design elements. For example, the clothing brand Ocean Pacific uses "OP" as its monogram logo. Both the brand name "Ocean Pacific" and logo "OP" serve as trademarks for the company's beach wear. Copyrights cover Ocean Pacific's swimsuit, board shorts and water shoe designs. A clothing brand often starts with the registration of its trademarks then registers its copyrights with the development of new designs.
A clothing brand can secure trademark ownership rights in its name and other unique identifying marks in three ways: through use in commerce, state registration and federal registration. A trademark can include any original word, sign, symbol or design. For example, the Coach leather handbag collection uses a signature "C" design. It automatically secured common law trademark rights in the C design once it used it on its handbags in commercial trade. State registration in its original state of New York provides general public notice of the trademark use. However, federal registration offers extensive national and international protections.
A clothing brand can also secure copyright ownership rights automatically under common law, as well as through federal registration. Any creative work secured in a tangible form may qualify for copyright protection. For example, once Ralph Lauren designers sketched the original designs for the 2012 Olympic outfits, the designs became fixed in a tangible form and the brand automatically secured copyright in the creative work. The clothing brand may also file for federal registration of the original work created by its artists, designers and print makers.
Displays and Productions
A clothing brand owns both an inventory of clothing products and an inventory of intellectual property. In addition to easily recognizable trademarks and copyrights, a brand owns copyrights in many other creative works, such as designers' sketches, t-shirt artwork, runway shows, product presentations, clothing tags, clothing displays and product catalogs. A clothing brand may capture these design elements in photo images and audio/visual recordings to meet the tangible form requirement.
References & Resources
- Citizen Media Law Project: Trademark
- Citizen Media Law Project: Copyrightable Subject Matter
- Citizen Media Law Project: Securing Trademark Rights: Ownership and Federal Registration
- United States Copyright Office; Copyright Basics; Who Can Claim Copyright?
- Coach Official Site; Company Information; Company Profile
- Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Getty Images