Intellectual Property in my Fashion Business

Written by Shamina Knights | November 2, 2023

Intellectual Property

Fashion is a dynamic and ever-evolving industry known for its creativity, innovation, and ability to set trends. However, the world of fashion is also highly competitive, with designers and brands constantly striving to protect their creations and prevent others from copying their designs. This is where intellectual property rights come into play. In this blog, we’ll explore the significance of intellectual property rights in the fashion industry and the various mechanisms fashion professionals use to safeguard their creative works.

Understanding Intellectual Property Rights in Fashion

Intellectual property (IP) rights are legal protections granted to individuals or entities for their creative and intellectual works. In the fashion industry, IP rights primarily encompass trade marks, design rights, copyright, and, to a lesser extent, patents. These rights help designers, fashion houses, and creators maintain the exclusivity of their designs and branding.

Trade marks in fashion

Trade marks are another essential element of intellectual property rights in fashion. A trade mark is a distinctive sign, symbol, or logo that distinguishes a brand from its competitors. In fashion, trade marks can include brand names, logos, slogans, and even specific elements like the iconic red soles of Christian Louboutin shoes or the distinctive pattern of Burberry’s tartan.

Trademark registration offers protection against brand dilution and counterfeiting. It allows consumers to identify and trust the quality and origin of a product. Infringement of a trade mark can lead to trade mark infringement claims and financial penalties, making it a critical aspect of brand protection in the fashion industry.

Registered  design rights in fashion

Registered design rights in the UK protect the appearance of a product, which includes its contours, colours, shapes, textures and materials. For a design to enjoy registered protection, it must be new and have individual character, meaning that it must be materially different to other designs in the market.

The benefit of registering your designs (whether that’s a design for a handbag, a dress or a heeled shoe with a unique shape) is that infringement will occur whereby an infringing product creates the same overall impression on the informed user to the registered design. This is in contrast to copyright and unregistered design rights where you are having to require proof of actual copying (which often can be difficult to do).

The UK provides for a 12-month grace period from self-disclosure of the design in which to file an application for registration. This allows you to test the design in the market prior to going through the registration process.

Copyright in fashion   

Copyright plays a crucial role in protecting original creative works in the fashion industry as it protects graphic designs, artistic works such as images and drawings, literary works and works of artistic craftsmanship. This means that if another party attempts to reproduce, distribute, or sell products featuring the same copyrighted materials without permission, they can be subject to legal action.

Challenges in enforcing intellectual property rights in fashion

While intellectual property rights provide valuable protection, the fashion industry faces some unique challenges when it comes to enforcing these rights:

  • Fast fashion: The fashion industry is notorious for its fast-paced production and trend turnover. Fast fashion brands often replicate designs quickly, making it challenging for designers to enforce their IP rights before the copied designs flood the market.
  • Proving originality: Proving the originality of a design or pattern can be complex, as fashion often draws inspiration from existing trends and styles. Copyright and trademark cases can involve intricate legal arguments over the level of creativity and distinctiveness.
  • Global counterfeiting: The global nature of the fashion industry means that counterfeit products can be produced and sold internationally. This makes it difficult for designers to enforce their IP rights across borders.


Intellectual property rights play a critical role in safeguarding the creativity and innovation that drive the fashion industry. While the fashion world is fraught with challenges such as fast fashion and global counterfeiting, designers and brands can and should protect their unique creations and brand identity through copyright, trademarks, and design rights. By understanding and utilising these intellectual property mechanisms, fashion professionals can continue to express their creativity while safeguarding their investments and maintaining the integrity of their brands.

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