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.

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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.

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How to Start a Clothing Brand With a Trademark & Copyrights
 

References

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Trademarks cover comic book characters' names and logos. Any character's name or logo used on products offered in commercial trade may qualify as a trademark. A trademark generally contains any combination of original words, signs, symbols, phrases and designs. A trademark may not contain generic or merely descriptive terms, such as "bat" or "man". However, the character name "Batman" qualifies as a unique combination of words and the Batman logo qualifies as a unique design. Registration of comic book character names must not infringe on other trademark owners' rights.

What Are the Four Parts to Obtaining a Trademark?

Your trademark tells your customers that your products come from you. It distinguishes your goods and services from those of others. You can select a word, phrase, symbol, design or any combination of these elements to serve as your trademark. The strongest trademark is a fanciful, made-up word or image that is not confusingly similar to another party's goods. There are four basic steps to obtaining a trademark.

Trademark Identification

Trademark identification can be a difficult process, as there are many different sources of trademarks. In addition to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or PTO, trademarks may be issued by individual state governments as well as governments from foreign jurisdictions. In order to adequately protect your mark, you must ensure that it is correctly identified and that it does not infringe on the mark of another.

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