The importance of a brand name in clothing and fashion means that trademark protection is all the more important if you plan to launch a new clothing and fashion company. As your business expands, your name (i.e. your trademark) will be inextricably linked to the design and function of your clothing products – and will often be the primary way that your popularity grows.
You don’t want to run the risk of consumers choosing another clothing product because of confusion between your name and another – and you don’t want other businesses to benefit from the goodwill that you’ve built.
Trademarking a clothing brand can be a complicated process – in addition to our overview of the steps to filing a trademark for clothing, let’s examine some frequently asked questions for a closer look at the matter.
1. What Aspects of my Clothing Brand can I Trademark?
A trademark is intended to give consumers a clear indicator of the source of a product or service. For your clothing brand, that means your company name, logo and slogan. In general, the first trademark you will want to file is the “plain text” of your name (e.g. NIKE without any claim to font, color, etc.). By filing on just your name itself, it gives you the rights in the name regardless of your logo (and ensures your protection is in place even if you change your logo in the future).
After you have put a priority on projecting just your name, you can consider filing for your brand’s logo (which may also include your name, or, just be artwork like the Nike ‘swoosh’] and slogan (e.g. JUST DO IT).
2. Why Should I Trademark my Clothing Brand?
Your brand name and the goodwill of your brand itself are the main identifiers of your company. For a clothing line, it’s especially important to have a distinct and well-protected mark.
Anyone can make a blue dress, for example, but if the blue dress with your brand label on it is the one that everyone wants, it’s important that they aren’t confused into purchasing a different one – mistakenly, or due to obfuscating tactics by a competitor. The protections afforded by a federally registered trademark give you the greatest control and safeguard against any other use of your name.
3. What Kind of Name can I Use for my Clothing Line?
You’ll need to choose a name that isn’t being used by any other company in the clothing industry – and one that also can’t be confused with an existing name. You also need to avoid clothing trademarks that are “merely descriptive” or “generic” – those that describe the form, function, or other inherent aspects of your product.
The United States Patent & Trademark Office doesn’t typically grant trademarks for those types of names since they’re difficult to enforce, easy to confuse, and are reserved for unfettered descriptive use rather than reserved use by one company. In order to ensure that you’re not infringing on an existing name or mark, you need to conduct a comprehensive research process.
A trademark attorney can be particularly useful in this area – they have access to research tools that are more powerful than search engines or public trademark search programs. Remember: infringement doesn’t only mean identical marks, it means ones that can be considered confusingly similar. You don’t want to run the risk of inadvertently infringing on an existing mark because of inadequate research.
4. How Should I use my Clothing Brand Trademark?
Your clothing brand trademark, as a method of identifying the source of your product, needs to be displayed on a tag or attachment of some type to your product – like a price tag, brand label, or hang tag. Any manner in which you’ll use your mark – such as name alone, logo alone, name and logo, or any variations thereof – needs to be included on your application.
The use of your logo as a decorative element on a piece of clothing itself is not enough, on its own, to qualify as a trademark – it’s considered “ornamental” by the USPTO, and will be rejected if you don’t submit another way of identifying your clothing product.
Prior to your trademark’s approval, you should use your mark in conjunction with the small “TM” symbol, serving as notice of your claim to the mark – but indicating that it’s not registered with the USPTO yet. Once your application is approved, you’ll then use the circled “R” symbol to indicate registration. It’s important to use your mark properly to prevent challenges and cancellation after approval.
5. How can I Protect my Clothing Brand Trademark?
A federally registered trademark gives you the greatest amount of protection over your name, providing much greater legal leverage against challenges than an unregistered mark. By registering your mark with the USPTO, you’ve taken the biggest step that you can toward protecting it.
After it’s approved, you should conduct frequent research to ensure that no other business it using your mark, or one similar to it, and also that your brand name isn’t being used to generically describe an item or style of clothing – if a mark falls into generic use, it can be challenged and cancelled. The federal registration can assist you with putting a stop to infringement, but it’s your responsibility to stay aware of any such cases.
Now that you’ve worked so hard to attain and develop your brand name trademark, it’s important to follow up and police it so that your business can continue to grow.