Any young designer setting out on a career should be aware of the importance of protecting his or her intellectual property and the risks of infringing someone else’s rights.

In the fashion world, designs tend to follow trends and to be inspired by previous successes.  That is all well and good, but stepping over the line can result in an expensive lawsuit.

Most designers would rightly try to avoid producing a design which creates the same impression as someone else’s work.  But how many realise that design law can also apply to parts of a design, for example the shape of a clasp or the heel of a shoe?

How can designers protect their own designs? 

The work of British designers will often qualify for short-term protection against copying under unregistered design right law.  To assert this right, you will need to keep good records of when your designs were created and put on sale. 

Stronger protection can be obtained by registering designs with the UK Intellectual Property Office or the equivalent EU body.  This costs up to a few hundred pounds and multiple designs can be registered at once.

Designs can only be registered when they are new, but in the UK this is softened by a 12 month grace period.  All may not be lost if a design which has not yet been registered really takes off.

Personal names, brand names and logos can be registered as trade marks.  It is a good idea to do this early on, before someone else beats you to it. Try to make sure you register in all classes of goods and services that are of interest, to allow for development of your range.

Be aware that intellectual property rights are territorial.  If you aspire to make or sell products outside of the UK, think about what rights you need to acquire in other countries to safeguard your plans.  Otherwise don’t be surprised to find your brands have been registered overseas by someone else.  Western designers make lucrative targets.

Patents apply to technological inventions.  If you invent something with a technical aspect, such as a new wearable technology, think carefully about getting some patent advice before you disclose it.

They key to protecting IP is thinking ahead and identifying what it is at the very heart of your business that you want to protect.

First published in Fashion Capital, September 2014