Growing Your Fashion Brand with Trademarks
Any fan of fashion knows what the letters MK, LV, YSL, and many others stand for — and for those that don’t, they can be seen as some of the most highly recognizable fashion brands in the world: Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent. While these brands have worked hard to build their empire of loyal fashion and apparel fans, as new entrepreneurs work to achieve this level of recognition, there are several steps brands must first take in protecting their name.
Trademark Registration and Protection
As you start a new business or brand, one of the most important steps you must consider in protecting it is trademark registration. While easily and often overlooked, trademark registration ensures that you are the legal owner of your business, brand, or product name or logo. Brands work hard to establish themselves, and a trademark allows for them to retain ownership of the name, ensuring a level of nationwide protection.
A trademark, essentially, is a unique design, word, or symbol that allows consumers to easily identify the source of their favorite products. To begin the process of owning a trademark, brands can register through the United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO]. However, before you take this step, you must first do your due diligence and check the USPTO database for the same or similar names to ensure you do not copy another brand. You might be surprised with what you find in doing a more simple Google search, too! If all is clear and no oppositions are raised with the USPTO, your trademark can take nine to 10 months to become approved.
It is important that brands take all of the precautionary measures to ensure that other companies are not profiting from their work, and while registering a trademark is the first step, it is unfortunately not enough. Registering a trademark with the USPTO gives a brand legal ownership of that mark, but it doesn't guarantee the enforcement of other brands who may try to copy it. It is also important to consider that with trends such as “fast fashion” on the rise, it is more necessary than ever for brands to protect themselves from unauthorized use of their work. Ultimately, it is up to the brand itself to monitor any other usage of its trademark — including monitoring newly filed trademark applications. Even if you’ve secured your trademark with the USPTO, someone else may still be successful in registering a problematically similar mark in your industry. The PTO does its best to avoid registering new marks that could conflict with existing ones, but why take the risk? If you monitor incoming trademark applications, you have the ability to oppose suspiciously similar marks during the designated 30-day opposition window. Utilizing a trademark monitoring service can allow for greater ease of mind with 24/7 monitoring.
What goes into a name or logo
As you register for a trademark, it is important to consider what goes into a name to ensure you are creating a strong mark. Strong names can include made up or unique words, such as “Zara” or “Burberry.” You may also consider words that exist, but that are applied to something different, such as “Apple” for computers.
Entrepreneurs should also avoid geographically descriptive terms or surnames in their mark as they are more likely to be copied or duplicated — and while brands such as Michael Kors do not follow this rule, they have a long history of utilizing the name, allowing them a special protection as they have acquired special distinctiveness.
Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent are not only known for their names and abbreviations, but also their logos and symbols. For instance, in addition to the classic interlocked LV letters, Louis Vuitton also boasts a series of fleurettes printed across a majority of their products. These letters and patterns were no accident, though. In fact, Louis Vuitton has been building its brand for more than 100 years — the renowned LV monogram was originally created back in 1896 when Louis’ son, George Vuitton, needed to come up with a way to prevent potential counterfeiting of his line of travel trunks.
Nevertheless, creating a logo is no small feat. Take the YSL logo, for example. What seems like three simple letters strung together actually took a lot of thought and design. Both the vertical YSL monogram as well as the horizontal “Yves Saint Laurent,” were created by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1961. Cassandre was a very well known artist at the time whose works creating typeface appeared in various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar. What many people probably don't notice about the infamous YSL logo is that the letters combine two different fonts (both sans and serifs), while also mixing roman and italic forms at the same time. It's not just one, but all of these components combined that make up some of the world’s most noteworthy names and logos. Considering the amount of work that goes into the creation of them, it's important to know how to protect them.
Don’t take the risk: recent cases in the fashion industry
As an owner, it is essential to stay out of disputes with other brands — take the Burberry vs. Target lawsuit for example, which occurred just last year. It’s no coincidence that when consumers see a brown and red checked pattern they automatically think of Burberry products. Retail stores such as Target may have attempted to capitalize on this basic design, and began selling various lines of clothing, eyewear, luggage, and more featuring the well-known plaid design. The result of this? A $2 million lawsuit by Burberry for trademark infringement.
It’s not just designer brands that are capitalizing on their rights, either. In 2018, high fashion brand Balenciaga released a $275 keychain that looked strikingly similar to the CAR-FRESHNER corporation’s classic tree-shaped air freshener. Of course, a lawsuit instilled immediately after CAR-FRESHNER got wind of this blatant disregard for their trademarked product.
The first step in protecting and building your brand is to register for a trademark, and once approved, to monitor the trademark for copycats. When deciding on your mark, take several aspects into consideration, such as naming choices, design and more. If you infringe on another mark or are the victim of infringement, it’s likely to cost you customer trust, lost revenue and possibly even additional funds to re-brand.
Mara Trumbour is the Executive Product Owner of Trademark.com and has extensive experience with intellectual-property solutions. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Mara is responsible for the development and execution of Trademark.com's business strategy. She holds an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Bentley University. To learn more about the best practices for protecting your fashion brand, please visit Trademark.com.