For those in the fashion industry, the overall look and design of your products are important forms of intellectual property (IP). Protecting your intellectual property through design registration is an important step to prevent others in the fashion industry from copying or using your design for their own purposes. Copyright, however, is another tool you can arm yourself with to protect certain aspects of your intellectual property.

How Copyright Applies to Fashion

Copyright can protect your IP in fashion as works such as drawings, or dressmaking patterns attract protection. Copyright protection, however, does not go to the full extent of the manifestation of the drawings or patterns, i.e., the actual garment. The exception is when screen prints or drawings appear on the garment. For example, if you are drawing images that end up on the print of a t-shirt, you will have copyright protection in the image’s 3D manifestation on the garment.


An interesting aspect of copyright protection is that it may extend to the stitching of products. As an example, a t-shirt’s embroidery may be an integral element of the garment, meaning it attracts copyright protection, separate from the t-shirt itself. Some examples may include jean stitching or the Polo Ralph Lauren stitching of their logo on polo shirts.

When Will Inspiration be Considered Copying?

Copyright protection can only be enforced if it is substantially different to the original work. Although it is common in the fashion industry to gain inspiration from another’s work, if the copying results in a substantial reproduction of the work, it may be considered a copyright infringement.

What Role Does Trade Mark Play?

There are many popular examples of when a trade mark protects a garment’s pattern or colour. This was the case for the Burberry tartan or Hermes’ continuous H pattern. These trade marks are only successful if consumers recognise the desired trade mark as relating to the product’s origin. The trade mark cannot solely be used for decorative purposes.


Intellectual property is important for many businesses, especially those in the fashion industry that need to set themselves apart through the work they have created. If you are a fashion designer or fashion house and are wondering what steps you can take to protect your intellectual property, speak to our team of intellectual property lawyers.

Questions? Get in touch on 1300 544 755.

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