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Fashion Law: Protecting Designs, Brands, and Creativity in the Legal Arena

Fashion Law: Protecting Designs, Brands, and Creativity in the Legal Arena


When one thinks of fashion, runway shows, photo sessions, and designer sketches, the thought of legal contracts or trademarks is unlikely to spring to one's mind. Surprisingly, fashion and law are closely interconnected. At first sight, especially for a person who has just entered it, the world of fashion may seem glamorous, festive, and enchanting. However, in reality, it is highly competitive and harsh, and it is not enough just to be creative in it. One should know how to protect the fruits of this creativity — designs, patterns, trademarks — from stealing.

Though fashion law is often overlooked in the glamorous echo of the fashion world, it is the key to one's brand success and flourishing. In this article, we will unlock the intricacies of fashion law, give effective legal tips for experienced designers and those just beginning their careers in the fashion industry, and discuss some of the most remarkable and notorious legal disputes in the perplexed history of fashion.

Protecting Artistic Expression in the World of Fashion

Contrary to popular belief, fashion isn't a sphere of creativity without rules and boundaries. Designers are forced to focus not only on creating something to impress the public but also constantly check if no one has stolen their ideas. Once a new design is born, it immediately faces the risk of being stolen, duplicated, and sold under another brand's name.

This problem is especially urgent for super-popular brands that set the trends in the fashion industry. Once a new collection is released, smaller brands start selling similar designs or simply steal every detail of the original items — from colors to brand labels. Copyright laws are made to protect these intricate designs from being duplicated. Likewise, trade dress laws guard the unique attributes that make a product or packaging identifiable, ensuring the original ideas aren't copied.Here are the main legal regulations individual designers and brands can use to protect their rights:

1. Copyright laws: This group of regulations aims at protecting the original designer's ideas in a tangible form, such as unique prints, graphics, or original fabric designs, from being copied.

2. Trade dress laws: This concerns all visual attributes of a brand that make people associate a certain item with this brand. For instance, it can be some elements of a product, such as unique buttons or patches, or packaging.

3. Trademark laws: These laws aim at protecting such elements as brand logos, names, and unique symbols from being copied and sold by other companies. It is a common situation when some no-name factories produce items of low quality with the logos of highly respected fashion houses. In such a way, they harm the reputation of the latter.

4. Design patents: In the US, a design patent protects the original, new, and ornamental design for manufactured items, like shoes, pieces of clothing, or jewelry. To ensure no one releases items with the same unique shoe heel or handbag shape, designers can register their unique design and, in such a way, prevent others from using it.

5. The Fashion Piracy Prohibition Act: In the US, there is a special law that concerns the copyright protection of fashion designs for three years from the day they are introduced in public. As a rule, within these three years, fashion trends change several times, and after this term is over, there are no volunteers willing to copy the old designs.

So, while creativity in the fashion world may seem unfettered, the law provides important protections to designers to ensure their unique creations remain truly their own.

Branding and the Battle: Safeguard Your Trademark

A brand is a fashion house's face, a symbol of its creativity, innovation, and identity. Thus, protecting a brand from imitators is imperative. Trademark laws assist in shielding brand identities, preserving the original brand image, and mitigating the risk of any dilutions.

Moreover, using legal contracts templates that cover everything, from licensing agreements to co-branding deals, can reinforce this protection. Such templates, when they are well-structured and drafted by professionals, can not only save your time and money but also ensure that your contract contains all the elements to protect your brand and its reputation.

Here are some effective steps to register and protect a brand's trademark:

● First, you should analyze the market and make sure another company has not used the name and logo you want to use for your brand.

● After you have checked everything, you can apply for trademark registration. In the US, you can do it through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); in other countries, there are similar organizations. Once it is registered, the trademark gives you exclusive rights to use it for commercial purposes.

● However, don't think that once you have your trademark, you can relax. From this moment on, you should regularly check if no other companies use your trademark. If you notice a case of unauthorized use, you should take some measures to protect your brand. For instance, you may try to solve the issue amicably, by asking another brand to remove the items with copied design from the market. However, if the attempt fails, you can file a lawsuit against the brand for trademark law violation.

Make Your Design Patents Secure

Design patents protect the unique, original features of fashion items — this could be the distinctive shape of a purse, a unique dress cut-out, or a novel shoe design. When you patent a particular design, you ensure it remains secure from being copied. From a legal perspective, the patented design is your intellectual property, which means other designers have no right to copy or replicate it.

Consider the iconic Armadillo boots by Alexander McQueen, for instance — they were protected under a design patent. This meant that this unique creation — with its aesthetically striking appearance and functional elements — couldn't legally be duplicated by other designers. This patent protection played a significant role in keeping the design exclusive, preserving the brand's reputation and market value.

So, if you want your astonishing designs to stay unique, consider applying for a design patent. At first sight, doing it may seem like a demanding process, but it's definitely worth every bit of effort. Spending time and energy trying to persuade someone of the authenticity of their design is not what a designer wants to do. To avoid such situations, it is better to take all possible measures to protect one's intellectual property from the start.

The Couture Courtroom: Most Sensational Law Disputes in Fashion History

Fashion is a realm where the gloss and sparkle often intertwine with legal contests. These high-profile legal battles fought by designers to safeguard their rights add an intriguing dash of detour to the industry's glamorous parade. Let's dive into some of the most infamous court dramas that rocked the fashion world:

The Heel War: Yves Saint Laurent Vs. Christian Louboutin
For people interested in fashion, Christian Louboutin's red-soled shoes need no introduction. They are iconic and a brand themselves. However, when Yves Saint Laurent debuted with identical, red-soled shoes in 2011, Louboutin took them head-on. This case triggered heated discussions within the fashion community. The lawsuit rolled onto every magazine cover before finally finding closure in court. It was decided that although a singular color wasn't trademarkable in this industry, Louboutin's distinctive red shade used on shoe soles earned trademark protection.

The Stripe Saga: Gucci Vs. Forever 21
In 2017, Gucci accused Forever 21 of imitating its renowned green-red-green stripe pattern. The latter, in its turn, replied by suing Gucci to annul their stripe pattern trademark claims. The long-drawn dispute initiated heated debates about trademarking common design elements. Finally, Gucci won the case and received the right to use the stripe pattern as its brand feature.

The Check Pattern: Burberry Vs. Target
Another well-known case happened in 2018, when Burberry filed a lawsuit against Target, a famous American retailer. The British brand accused the latter of unauthorized use of selling eyewear, luggage, and even water bottles with Burberry's iconic check pattern. Burberry demanded that Target had to cover up to $2 million damages for each case of trademark violation. Besides, all the products with the recognizable pattern were expected to be removed from the shops. However, the parties resolved the case by mutually and voluntarily dismissing it.

These incidents disclose that even gigantic fashion brands, recognized worldwide, are sometimes found to cross paths with contemporaries. In such instances, legal intervention becomes an effective course of action to settle the disagreement.


The flashy realm of fashion might blanket its legal intricacies that demand a profound comprehension of laws. Issues like copyright infringement, trademark violations, and design piracy are extremely common in the fashion industry, whether it is related to new brands or those that have a long history.

These problems can significantly impair a brand's reputation. Consequently, it's vital to understand and adeptly apply legal safeguards like copyrights, trade dress, and trademarks while working in the fashion industry. With this toolkit of knowledge, you can unleash your creativity without fretting over potential threats to your originality. So, don't merely aim to birth the next big fashion rage; legally fortify it to facilitate your creation's exclusive longevity.