Updated June 23, 2020:

What is Trademark Clothing?

Trademark clothing is when the designer's name or fashion company is inextricably linked to the clothing itself. This includes having the trademark on the tag or emblazoned on the piece of clothing.

The process of trademarking clothing is complex. There are several steps to take when filing for a clothing trademark, and even more questions you'll have to ask yourself throughout the process.

Why is Trademarking Clothing Important?

Clothing lines and fashion designers need to protect their brands, names, slogans, and logos. They do this by obtaining valuable trademarks. Brand-name clothing and fashion is important because it denotes a level of quality to the customer.

Your clothing line must be unique with an original name, slogan, and logo in order to qualify for trademark protection. Generic or descriptive names won't cut it.

Once you've chosen a name for your clothing line, that trademark becomes the element distinguishing your line from your competitors'. When you have a strong trademark, you can build brand loyalty with customers who have learned to love your clothing's consistent value and quality.

You can gain protection for your clothing brand by having your lawyer file a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This entitles you to legal protections for your brand, including the brand name, slogan, or logo.

For example, consider the classic Nike brand. Nike has filed several trademark registrations for the word "Nike" across various classes of services and goods, including a separate trademark for backpacks, sporting equipment, and designs. Nike's most notable trademarks are the "swoosh" design symbol and the "Just do it" slogan. As you build your clothing company, consider how much protection these various types of trademark registrations can offer.

What's more, the greater number of trademark registrations you have, the stronger your intellectual property portfolio. For a fashion startup, holding multiple trademarks can attract more investors and boost your company's value. Multiple trademark registrations also build more confidence with consumers.

Reasons to Consider Trademarking Clothing

The main reason to have your fashion trademarked is to identify your clothing line. A complete business with a logo, slogan, and name is more valuable to both inventors and customers. That's because it provides a clear sense of your clothing line's identity.

In addition to building brand loyalty, trademarked clothing distinguishes your line from another designer's. Anyone can make a white blouse, but your trademark is distinctive and stands out from the rest. When you've become successful, your white blouse is the one everyone wants. The best part is that you can use this advantage in all forms of advertising and marketing strategies.

You're also free to use your trademark however you see fit. You may want to identify your brand on the price tag or brand label, or incorporate the trademark into the clothing design itself. You can also license your trademark to retailers that want to sell your clothing.

Decorative elements used on clothing are considered "ornamental" by the USPTO and won't automatically qualify for trademark status on their own. As such, submitting another way to identify your clothing product is required.

Naturally, the biggest reason for trademarking your clothing line comes down to protection. A federally registered trademark comes with the greatest amount of protections when it comes to your brand name. Once approved, no one else can use your trademark without your permission unless it falls under fair use. You can legally go after any competitor using your trademark for financial gain.

What Happens When I File for a Clothing Trademark?

There are three ways to obtain secure trademarks for clothing:

  • Use in commercial trade
  • State registration
  • Federal registration

Using your brand name, logo, or slogan in commercial trade is enough to establish your trademark without the need to register it. However, trademark usage alone doesn't give you the maximum amount of legal protections.

State registration creates a public record of your trademark and gives the public notice that the mark is currently in use. Competitors that fail to search for similar trademarks or who knowingly violate trademark law can be held accountable.

Federal registration gives you exclusive ownership rights as well as the right to sue in federal court. The trademark office also maintains an extensive federal database of trademarks, which would include your listing.

In order to federally register a trademark, you will be required to sign an affidavit noting the date on which you first used it. This date determines "first use," or who qualifies to legally own the trademark. You'll have to provide a drawing of your trademark and a sample of the clothing for the USPTO to check against the trademark database. Similar marks already in the database will result in your application being rejected.

It's important to remember that trademarks do not, in fact, protect patterns, clothing designs, or artwork. These elements require copyright protection instead. As a designer, you automatically own the copyrights to your designs, artwork, and patterns from the moment you create the item in a physical form, including initial sketches.

Common Mistakes

When trademarking your clothing line, be sure to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Relying solely on copyright law. While it's nice to know that you automatically own the copyright to your ornamental designs, sketches, patterns, and other artwork, don't assume your brand name, logo, or slogan are protected. Trademarking and copyrighting are not the same thing.
  • Failing to search for existing trademarks. It's easy to assume your brand name, logo, or slogan are distinct and original because you created them, but you might be surprised at how easy it is to find similar trademarks already in the USPTO's database. Be sure to do your homework and enlist the help of a trademark attorney, if necessary, to avoid wasted time and money.
  • Assuming domain name registration protects you. While it's a smart move to register your clothing line's domain name as soon as possible, never assume this provides you with any sort of trademark protection. Simply registering a domain name isn't even considered "trademark use" and won't establish your trademark rights. You need to use the trademark in interstate commerce first.
  • Assuming your trademark is protected around the world. When registering your trademark with the USPTO, you are only entered in the United States' database; you don't yet enjoy any protections internationally. If you plan on distributing or selling your clothing in any other country, file a trademark application with that country. The bigger your brand gets and the more countries you do business with, the more trademark registrations you need.
  • Relying on ornamental trademark use. Unless you've already trademarked your brand, you should avoid displaying your intended trademark as a decorative feature on a garment. Customers need to associate your trademark with your brand, not a design element. If you do want to display your logo or brand name on the front of a garment, make sure you also include it on the label or price tag. You can also integrate a small image of the trademark into the garment, such as a tiny patch on the breast pocket. Also, always include the trademark design on product packaging.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I come up with a good name for my clothing line?

Naturally, you'll have to choose a name that isn't being used by any other clothing company. It's also important to choose a name that can't be confused with an existing one. For instance, you wouldn't pick "Nikke" because it's too similar to "Nike." You also need to pick a distinctive name, one that isn't generic or descriptive. To avoid descriptive names, try not to incorporate your clothing's form or function into the name. For example, a clothing line named "Pretty" may sound cute, but it won't qualify for trademark protections because it's a description, not an actual name.

The USPTO doesn't typically grant marks for these types of company names since they're easy to confuse, hard to enforce, and are widely used for descriptive purposes by more than one company.

  • What aspects of my clothing brand qualify for trademark registration?

Your business name, slogan, and logo. You should trademark your business name in plain text without regards to color or font. Trademarking the name itself gives you exclusive rights regardless of the logo you pair with it.

  • I want to protect the shape and design of a garment itself. Can I do that?

You cannot trademark a specific item of clothing, but depending on the circumstances, you may be able to patent it. Research design patents to see if your clothing would qualify for patent protection.

  • Which trademark class do I choose when registering my clothing?

Trademarked clothing falls under Class 25. Class 25 is one of 45 trademark classes used by the trademark office when categorizing products and services. As such, Class 25 contains clothing, headgear, and footwear, including shoes, hat frames, turbans, bath slippers, suspenders, knitwear, and various other items.

Steps to File

The process of trademarking your clothing line and brand can be overwhelming, especially when you don't enlist the help of a lawyer. Still, it isn't impossible to do on your own. Just take the following steps:

  1. Come up with a unique brand name that stands out from the rest. This requires doing extensive research to be sure the name isn't already in use or attached to another brand.
  2. Check trademark databases. Trademark databases are public and are easy to use. You may also consider surveying your friends and family to see if your brand name sounds similar to an existing one.
  3. Create your brand name and logo. After doing the research, it's time for the fun part. Decide on the brand name and any symbols or slogans you wish to be associated with your clothing line. Unless you're experienced in graphic design, you may want to hire a professional logo creator to bring your vision to life.
  4. Start using your brand name and logo. Place them on your packaging materials and products. Avoid using any trademarks as clothing designs until you've registered them first.
  5. Register your trademark and logo. You can do this online at the USPTO website. You should also be prepared to describe the logo in detail when registering. Submit the application along with a sample of your product bearing the logo and brand name as well as the required affidavit.
  6. Prevent all forms of unauthorized use and infringement to enforce and protect your legal rights.
  7. Renew your trademark rights every 10 years and copyright all desired clothing designs.

Ensure your clothing line is trademarked without a hitch by consulting one of the lawyers on UpCounsel. UpCounsel only accepts the top 5 percent of attorney applicants to the website, giving you access to the best and brightest minds in the legal world.