How to Legally Protect Your Fashion Brand from Copycats

Your product is as unique as you are. With this usually stems some level of fear that others will want to copy your ideas.

Although these feelings are common, you don’t want it to prevent you from taking those next important steps.

So how do you move forward through the production process without your unique product being knocked off?

There are the legal routes to help protect yourself, and then there are common sense precautions you can choose to implement.

Three legal ways to protect yourself are: US Copyright Law, Design Patents and US Trademark Law.

>> US Copyright Law: This law will protect your “original expressions” — as in texts or graphics. It will not however protect any functional elements. For example a jacket you have created, the design you have had meticulously stitched into it – that is covered. However, the squared physical shape of the jacket is not covered under copyright laws.

>> Design Patents: This law will provide 14 years of protection, covering exclusive industrial design rights for new and nonobvious ornamental designs of functional items. This process can take anywhere from 6-12 months, so keep this timeline in mind while you’re working through the process.

>> US Trademark Law: While copyright law will protect the original design creation, trademark law will protect the wording and logo of the designer. This should lower the risk of confusion with the consumer, allowing them to know where their product is coming from.

Now you also have personal approaches you can take:

>> Tighten the material controls. One unfortunate problem you could encounter is having your manufacturer slip your design out the back door for their own personal gain. This rarely happens — especially in the U.S. — but it’s something to be mindful of. You want to keep a close eye on the production of your product. 

For example, if you had 3,000 units produced, and you are only seeing 2,400 units ship out, then you have a problem.

Try to source your own material any time you can, and only send the manufacturer what is needed to fulfill your exact order amount. This will give you more control over what’s happening in the production phase.

>> Break up the production when your product has multiple components. Have each component produced by a different manufacturer and then shipped to a completely separate party for assembly.

This will allow you to be more discreet so that no one manufacturer will know the entire process involved in creating your product.

>> Focus on the strength of your brand. One sure shot way to know you can overcome the competition is to make sure you have a rock solid brand identity.

Develop a brand that sets itself apart from all others so that your customer will go out of their way to seek your products.

At the bottom of it all — fashion design cannot truly be protected. My advice is to save your money for more immediate needs than trademarks and patents although a lawyer will probably tell you otherwise. 

Stay focused on building an awesome product, attracting excited early customers, and getting your brand to market for fast feedback.