The internet has eliminated the barrier to entry in fashion. No longer is it only the purview of major fashion houses. Today, even small designers can garner an online following and do business just about everywhere. However, before you take the plunge, it's crucial to consider ways to protect your IP. One thing important to consider is the need to patent your clothing line. Of course, that's assuming that a patent is the kind of IP protection you need. There are many other options out there that may be more pertinent to your needs. It's a journey best embarked on with the help of an experienced attorney. Can You Get a Patent for a Clothing Line? It is possible to patent a clothing line, but some specific criteria are necessary. Mainly, your clothing line has to meet all the standards of any other patentable idea: \tNovelty: The novel requirement means that your idea has to be unique from any other on the market. It also can't be based on information that's available to the public. \tUsefulness: (Only a requirement for Utility Patents) The item you create has to be helpful in some way. There is a lot of leeway in this criteria. Mainly, you have to show that it solves a problem of some kind and is not a strictly abstract idea. \tNonobviousness: This is a widespread reason for patent denials and one you could run into in clothing line development. Simply put, if a person with a similar skill set could recreate your idea using publicly available information, you won't pass the nonobviousness test. There is a fourth requirement called "statutory eligibility," but this won't apply to clothing lines. It's based on specific classes of disqualified idea types, like abstract ideas, laws of nature, and physical phenomena. Utility vs. Design Patents for Clothing Lines After you've determined you meet the patentability requirements, you'll need to decide what type of patent to choose. There are two: utility and design. Design Utility A design patent protects the way something looks. Usually, ornamental designs like those found on jewelry, automobiles, or furniture are used as examples, though this could also apply to clothing. However, many clothing designers automatically assume this is the type of patent they need when that's not always the case. If your idea changes how clothing functions, you'll likely need a utility patent. A utility patent protects the way something works. While that doesn't seem to apply to fashion, it's quite common. For example, consider a strapless bra where you can change the straps in many different ways or a shirt that changes color based on body temperature. These are both ideas that received utility patents because of the function of the clothing. It's not unheard of for both design and utility patents to be used to protect something complex with many different parts. As a result, it can be tricky to decide which patent type to choose. On top of that, you cannot patent a fashion line as a whole. You will have to patent each unique article or core functionality of the garment individually. This is a process that can get extremely expensive, so it's wise to consult with an attorney first. That attorney may find that there are other IP protections to review. Do You Need a Trademark or Copyright Instead? A patent may not be the only IP protection you need. You may need to consider a trademark or copyright, though there are limitations. To understand those limitations, you have to break down what each protects. Copyright Trademark A copyright is designed to protect artistic work like books, screenplays, and even types of software code. It could apply to sketches you make of your clothing or designs and patterns you create for it, provided there's a significant amount of creative expression. However, it won't protect the clothing itself as copyrights aren't designed to cover inherently useful articles that aren't strictly artistic expressions. Trademarks apply to branded assets. You could trademark logos used on your clothes and other things that are specifically designed to reflect your brand. Things like the Nike swoosh or the polo player on Ralph Lauren shirts are covered under trademarks. As you can see, there's a lot to consider as you evaluate how to patent a clothing line. In addition, you may need several other types of IP protection like trademarks and copyrights. The best way to approach IP protection in the fashion industry is to connect with an experienced attorney.