Your brand is one of your most valuable assets, no question about it. For this reason, you need to safeguard its integrity, and one of the best ways to do that is by registering it as a trademark.
Perhaps in no other industry is trademarking a brand such a big deal as in the fashion and apparel industry, a vast world that is worth over a trillion dollars worldwide and employs millions of people. Suffice to say if you’re not unique enough, it is incredibly easy to get lost in the sea of brands out there. Completely out of the radar of consumers, with few aware of your existence.
But a trademark allows you to stand out from the crowd, for it is inextricably linked to your product’s design and function. It helps differentiate your designs from the millions of others in the market, and definitely a must-do for anyone looking to start their own clothing line.
The last thing you want is to spend your entire life building a business only for consumers to opt for other products for the simple reason that they cannot tell you apart from the next guy. Other businesses will only be profiting from the goodwill you have or are about to painstakingly build.
For instance, let’s say you are in the business of making ties and happen to have this one white design with black polka dots.
It’s probable there could be many such designs in the market. And if there are none, and you happen to be the first, chances are some people will “borrow” your design and make replicas. However, consumers might only be interested in your brand label because they have always associated you with a certain attribute – quality stuff maybe, groundbreaking designs, bold creations perhaps…
With a trademark, these consumers will be able to pick out your offering from the myriad out there.
It’s a cruel world out there, a world where many will be looking to cash in on your efforts.
We can harp on all day about the importance of trademarking a clothing label, a point that cannot be emphasized enough. But to sum it up in a few words, a trademark is another way of saying you, as a clothing brand, are absolutely worth your weight in gold.
What Aspects can you Trademark?
Trademark as pertains to clothing designs involves registering everything from your brand name, to the logo, to the slogan.
The first trademark you need to get is the actual name itself which gives you exclusive rights to the name regardless of whether you’ll alter the logo or slogan in future (which does happen when companies choose to rebrand). This should be done in plain text, minus the color, font and all the bells and whistles.
Once you have ticked that box, you can then lay claim to your brand’s logo and slogan.
These aside, a brand can also trademark other distinguishing features that help differentiate its offering in the marketplace. A good example of this is the characteristic red soles of Louboutin’s shoes. You spot them from a mile away. Or the blue-colored jewelry boxes from Tiffany’s.
Beyond the functional features, there are other unique design elements on your products that you may wish to protect. These include your clothing designs, artwork, patterns and other similar creative works. It’s a particularly sensitive area, this one. This, however, leans more towards copyright ownership than trademarking.
Often the case, a clothing brand will first start by registering its trademarks, then move on to the registration of copyrights as new designs are developed.
Steps to Registering your Clothing Trademark
From the surface, registering a clothing trademark might seem like a pretty straightforward affair. In truth, it can be arduous. There are several steps you have to go through before your trademark application is approved, and trademark laws are variant upon location.
We would like to focus on two markets in particular: North America and Europe.
For simplicity purposes, we’ll also split them into respective sections, sharing the procedure you have to follow in either market.
Trademarking your Clothing Brand in North America
Here is a step-by-step guide on the steps you need to take to file your trademark in the United States.
Step 1: Trademark Search
First off, you need to look for a unique brand name because you don’t want to submit a trademark application only for it to be denied on the likelihood of similarity with another brand. It’s good to note that funds are non-refundable in the event of denial, meaning you’ll have to fork out the fee again when resubmitting.
Unless you have something very personable in mind, this can be a frustrating part that involves carrying out an extensive name search to make sure no other brand name resembles yours – or comes close to it.
Step 2: Online Database Search
Take your name search online to confirm if there is any registered trademark name resembling your chosen name. A good tool that can help the cause is the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) which can be found on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.
USPTO advises to seek a trademark attorney to help in the search and interpretation of the results. However, you are free to DIY, and if so the case, you can visit a Patent and Trademark Resource Center within your state.
The Clothing for the Design Search Code Manual needs you to provide the design code 9.03.
Step 3: Submit Application
USPTO recommends applications to be forwarded via its digital platform, the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS).
There are three types of application forms to choose from –TEAS Reduced, TEAS Regular and TEAS Plus. These are basically filing options whose difference lies in the fee and filing requirements.
Still, you can file manually by forwarding your application to the Trademark Assistance Center in Alexandria, but there is little sense in doing so. Reason is because manual application is more expensive, and you could say for nothing considering the processing time is also lengthier.
After you submit your filing, you will receive a confirmation email in that regard. From there, all that will remain now is to sit back, fingers crossed.
Step 4: Working with Attorney from USPTO
If you have fulfilled the minimum filing requirements, an application serial number will be given to you.
Your application is forwarded to the legal department for review by an examining attorney. The purpose here is to ensure the application meets all legal requirements. This is typically done three months following your application.
If the attorney is satisfied with your application, it will be published in the weekly Official Gazette to invite anyone who may dispute the name.
Step 5: Approval or Denial of Application
In the absence of objections against a trademark, you are home and dry. The USPTO will accept your application and send you a certificate of registration.
In the event of application denial, you may need to review your application and file addendums. If you were considering bringing in an attorney, now would be a great time.
Step 6: Maintaining your Trademark
Now that you own the trademark rights to your clothing brand, it is your duty to avert any forms of infringement on your trademark.
This is where you might bring legal action against the trespasser whenever such eventualities occur.
The TSDR (Trademark Status and Document Retrieval) can be a useful tool to monitor the status of your trademark on an annual basis.
Other than that, all you need to do now is keep your trademark active by renewing it every 10 years.
All applications must be accompanied by an application fee which is payable via electronic funds transfer, check, credit card or money order.
An online application will set you back between $275 and $325, dependent upon the type of application you file. If you opt for manual filing, this fee currently stands at $375.
Other fees you might have to factor into the equation along the way include an attorney’s fee, should you decide to go this route. Some attorneys charge a flat fee but others will bill you by the hour with fees ranging upwards of $125 an hour.
If you are restricting your trademark within the state without the need for the more comprehensive federal protection with nationwide protection, application costs will usually range between $100 and $200.
That aside, the only other fee required is the maintenance of the trademark in order to keep it active. Renewals are done once every 10 years, with the maintenance fee for electronic renewals going for $300 dollars, while paper renewals attract a charge of $400.
Speaking of approval…
The good thing with applying for your clothing trademark online is that it is beneficial in more ways than just the convenience it brings and lesser application charges.
The waiting period for trademark applications done electronically is usually around 8 months, compared to manual applications which could take up to 13 months.
Prior to approval, you can monitor the status of your application every three or four months. You can do that through the Trademark Status & Document Retrieval (TSDR).
Trademarking your Clothing Brand in Europe
When filing for a trademark for your clothing brand in Europe, the region in which you want to extend your wings is the most important factor.
If you prefer protection in the Benelux region (initials denoting a customs union between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), you have to do it via the BBIE website. If you want to serve all of Europe, then your applications should be directed to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). UK applications go to the Intellectual Property Office.
The following steps are taken when registering for a clothing brand’s trademark in Europe.
Step 1: Trademark Search
As in the United States, the first thing you need to do is check if your desired brand name has been registered by someone else.
The respective websites all have a provision for you to run through this search.
Step 2: Choose Appropriate Category
Next, choose the relevant category (classes) based on your offering.
For instance, all clothing, footwear and headgear are filed under Class 25, one of 45 international classes. Handbags, on the other hand, fall under Class 18.
If, for example, you deal in t-shirts and handbags, you need to file two different applications under the relevant category (Class 25 and Class 18) for your trademark to cover all items.
Step 3: Choose Desired Territory
Trademarks in Europe cover particular territories.
It’s good to have your trademark covering the key trading areas. Who knows, you might not be serving a particular market at present, but a time may come when you might need to spread your tentacles.
However, this is something you could do in stages as opposed to one fell swoop.
Step 4: Submit your Application
Once you have decided which areas you need to cover, the next thing you need to do is visit the respective website and file your application.
It’s fairly easy to file a trademark in the UK or EU, but feel free to engage the services of an Intellectual Property lawyer if need be.
Once you submit your application in the knowledge that you have fulfilled all requirements, all you need to do now is wait for approval.
The cost of acquiring a trademark for your company varies depending on region (and duration).
The standard registration in the Benelux territory goes for EUR 240 for online applications, with manual registration attracting an extra fee of 15%.
The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property – the body tasked with trademark registration in this region – charges an extra fee to speed up your application.
Just like in the United States, the registration is valid for up to 10 years, following which you have to renew your application for €240.
- European Union
EU protection of your clothing brand is dependent upon the different levels you may be looking to register your brand.
Charges start at EUR 850 for 3 classes, with each set of three additional classifications costing €150, save for the second class which attracts a fee of 50 euro.
European trademarks (EUTMs) are registered at EUIPO in Alicante, Spain, and a single Community Trademark (EU trademark registration) can protect your brand across all 27 countries under the EU umbrella.
Registration validity doesn’t differ from the Benelux union, or the U.S. for that matter, lasting 10 years with the option to extend indefinitely for 10 years at a time.
- United Kingdom
Trademark applications in the UK will set you back £170 (Pound Sterling), with each additional classification thereafter costing £50.
Registration validity is similar to its European counterparts, lasting 10 years with the option of renewal.
Again, assuming no one objects, processing time for your trademark application in Europe will vary.
In the Benelux, the waiting period is usually about 3 months.
In the Community (EU), this time could be anywhere between 6 and 9 months.
Over in the UK, trademark registration processing times average 4-6 months.
How Trademark Application in the United States and Europe Compare
As you can see, there is not a world of difference between trademark registration for clothing brands in the United States and Europe.
Perhaps one notable difference between the two is that the approval waiting time in the U.S. is massively lengthy, at least compared to the UK and Benelux.
Online applications are approved within an 8-month window, with manual applications taking well over a year (13 months). The only region in Europe (the Europe covered herein) that compares with the United States is the EU. Here, waiting times last between 6 and 9 months, with the Benelux and the UK averaging 3 months and 4-6 months respectively.
As well, looking at the registration process itself, you could say EUTMs are a less protracted affair with an easier registration process compared to their American counterparts. This is especially so when you consider the process involved in the application of local registration and protection in each respective territory.
What’s more, European trademarks have the added bonus of being lower in cost to obtain and renew, all things considered.
As well, oppositions and cancellations in the United States are far more complicated than at EUIPO. Full discovery that encompasses everything from document requests, to written questions, to depositions are provided for. This is why it is essential to know beforehand what you’ll be in for.
In a way, trademark law is similar to tax law. Few comprehend it but there is an entire industry of government staff, accountants and attorneys specializing in interpretation, litigation and the resolution of conflicts.
As a clothing brand owner, be it small or large, trademarking your brand is one of the most valuable things you can do to safeguard your company’s brand, reputation, value, and customer goodwill.
Of course, you won’t be able to arrest any infringement that might happen, few might go under the radar. But with a trademark in place, you have the legal firepower to go after anyone who steps on your toes.