INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY
When we decide to window shop in the malls, do we realize how much of intellectual property we are being exposed to. The Hermes bags, Vera Wang dresses, Christian Louboutin’s red-lacquered sole stilettos, Ritu Kumar line of fashion all of them have one thing in common, which is how innately their brand names, apparels, accessories and their designs are woven into the fabric of intellectual property rights protection.
When we think of fashion, what immediately pops on to our mind is the design of the product, which is the very soul of the creation. The registration of the design by the applicant would help to prevent copying and use of the creative work without a license. Fashion designs can be protected under the Designs Act, 2000 for a period of 10 years which can be further extended for 5 more years. However, most often designers and creators refrain from seeking protection of their design as the short product cycle acts as a major barrier. Despite this, there are various fashion products which have not gone out of trend such as the Hermes bag which grew to fame in 1956 after Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco appeared carrying the bag on the cover of LIFE Magazine, in such instances registration of the design would prevent exploitation. Therefore, bringing us back to question whether seeking protection for the design of a fashion product is a viable option or not? The answer deemed fit would be that it depends on a case-to-case basis.
We identify and distinguish fashion products and items primarily by their brand names, labels and logos, this is where the importance of trademarks come into play. They can be protected under the Trademarks Act, 1999 as a conventional or non-conventional trademark. Fashion houses rely extensively on their trademarks as they create a lasting impression on the minds of their consumers and furthers the reach of their products. The distinctive features of apparels such as the block-shaped multi-colored pixelated patterns of the US Navy Uniform have been granted registration by the TTAB. Similarly in India the blue- rimmed cotton saree which was made famous by Mother Teresa was registered as a trademark.
Now, patents are not an intellectual property which we would immediately associate the fashion industry with, but the technical innovations in the fashion industry could make or break the market. For example, most of us possess a pair of stone-washed denims, and what we might not know is that the technology which enables to provide the ‘stone-washed’ effect has been patented by a Danish biotech company, Novozymes. The Company today holds patent rights over various production improving methods and fabric finishing such as the stone- washed finish. Therefore, fashion patents would protect the invention of the inventor be it a product, or process related to the fashion designs.
Further, Geographical Indications and Traditional Knowledge are of significance when it comes to the fashion industry as they facilitate the protection of fashion items which are unique to a particular location and possess distinctive features. The Kancheepuram silk saree is an example of relevance, which has been recognized as a geographical indication by the Government of India in 2005. Further fashion houses obtain licenses from traditional weavers to use their traditional designs for their fashion apparels; for example, The Aditya Birla Fashion Group has partnered with the Pochampally handloom weavers to introduce Ikat into their men’s work wear segment.
Almost every aspect in a fashion item can be protected by a form of intellectual property and this is primarily because creativity and innovation are omnipresent in both the IP and fashion. The fashion industry ought to protect their intellectual capital which would facilitate in boosting their revenues, improve market share and most importantly reduce the risk of exploitation.
By Aarya S Puthran
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
 IP and Business: Intellectual Property in the Fashion Industry, https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2005/03/article_0009.html accessed on Jun 16, 2021.
 In re Navy Exchange Service Command, Serial Nos: 77160754, 77160783, 77324266 and 77324270
 Significance of IP in Fashion Industry, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=3011b365-d004-402f-8a62-1a52265787b0 accessed on June 16, 2021.