Do I Need to Trademark My Clothing Lines?

By Joe Runge, Esq.

Do I Need to Trademark My Clothing Lines?

By Joe Runge, Esq.

Your new clothing line is a fashion win. Retailers are lining up to put it in stores. Imitators have already begun producing knockoffs of your work, which means you need to protect it—and fast. You decide it's time for a trademark.

Woman with ruling tape smiling in front of fashion designs and clothing on models

Trademark is a powerful form of intellectual property protection, but it can be tricky to understand. Your trademark isn't the same as your logo or brand but rather includes elements of both. Trademark protects the use of a particular mark to identify the source of goods and allow the creator to build up brand recognition.

How to Protect a Trademark

To protect your trademark, you have to identify your brand or logo as a trademark. The simplest way to do that is to include "TM" next to the brand name or logo. The TM communicates to your customers and competitors that you are the genuine source of your goods.

Placing a TM is easy and inexpensive but only provides limited protection. For example, your competitors could claim that they did not have adequate notice that your logo was in use or that it's not a valid trademark due to its similarity to other marks.

If you really want your brand name or logo to mean something, you have to take it to the next level.

Federal Trademark Registration

The gold standard for protection is registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A registered trademark is indicated by the letter R in a circle—a symbol that carries a lot more weight and protection than the TM.

The USPTO publishes a list of registered trademarks. That publication removes ignorance as defense—no one can claim they didn't know your logo was in use and belonged to you.

Federal registration is the gateway to the rest of the world. Through treaties and international agreements, the United States can extend protection throughout the world. As your business grows, so too can your global trademark protection—all with that circle R.

Finally, the circle R means that a trademark examiner scrutinized the mark and could not find another that was too similar, thus eliminating the risk of confusion between two marks.

Similar and Confusing Trademarks

The question of similarity and confusion is key to determining whether you can use a circle R with your mark. Will consumers confuse the source of the goods due to the similarity of two marks? If the trademark examiner thinks so, then she will reject your logo for trademark consideration. That means you will have to differentiate the mark in some way, whether by changing the color, shape, or some other aspect. Trademark examination is that process: adjusting new trademarks so they are distinct over existing trademarks so consumers avoid confusion.

Clothing Line Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Your clothing line contains multiple forms of intellectual property. Patterns and designs on prints can be protected by a copyright. The design of a shoe or a hat can be protected by a design patent. Those forms of protection are for the specific creative choices made in the production of clothing.

Trademark is different. Instead of protecting the creative design of the clothing, trademarks protect the identified source of the clothing. The association of that mark with the source of the product is called goodwill. Instead of having to examine goods for their quality, consumers can rely on the mark on the good itself.

When you put your mark on your product, consumers can expect a certain level of quality, value, or creativity. In the end, the trademark isn't the logo or brand on your clothes: it's the quality, value, or creativity that your brand name or logo means to your customers.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.