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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Difference Between a Logo & Trademark


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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.

Are All Trademark Names Legally Protected?

All trademark names generally qualify for trademark protection. Basic trademark protections automatically apply to a trademark once it's used in the marketplace, to identify and distinguish a company's specific goods or services. The first company to use a unique identifying mark on its goods in commercial trade secures trademark rights in the mark. Trademark names include a variety of original words, phrases, signs and symbols. However, generic names, surnames, regional names and merely descriptive names do not qualify as trademarks. The trademark owner may chose to register the trademark with state and federal trademark offices. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office processes all federal trademark registration applications.

How to Trademark a Shape

A trademark is phrase, symbol or design element that identifies the brand of a product or service. Unlike a copyright or patent, trademark protection takes effect as soon as the mark is first used in commerce, even without registration. Non-traditional trademarks include shapes, such as the trademark for the three-dimensional iPod shape granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January 2012.

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