Following lawsuits around fashion in the news can often be disheartening. Fashion designers are often not afforded a lot of legal protection and cases can be dismissed easily for lack of merit. I have proposed that copyright laws should be reformed to protect clothing and accessories, but there are already some other established and emerging legal mechanisms for safeguarding fashion.
Trademarks can be registered to protect symbols and names in branding. In fashion, the difficulty lies in what is accepted as “trademarkable”, but once registered, trademarks can be have effective in providing a certain degree of exclusive protection.
Recently, a case of copying fashion designs has hit the mainstream media: Gucci is suing Forever21 for copying their trademarked design of red-blue-red and green-red-green striped patterns [Forever 21, Inc. v. Gucci America, Inc., et al., 2:17-cv-04706 (C.D.Cal)].
Gucci has used this iconic design on their clothing, shoes, and accessories for years and Forever21 started selling apparel with similar striped patterns. Gucci commenced an action against Forever21 for willful trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.
Unlike many cases of alleged copying in fashion, Gucci’s legal claims appear to have some merit under the laws of trademark. The Gucci stripes have been registered, and although Forever21 is arguing Gucci cannot hold a monopoly on coloured striped clothing, the trial is moving forward. Gucci filed on August 8 2017, and the pending trial will be influential, and if successful will create new precedent for the use of trademarks in the protection of fashion against increasingly frequent copying.
Gucci has done well to work within established trademark laws and build a legal foundation for launching a case. Fashion designers and houses can learn from this when it comes to identifying alternative ways to protect their creations and designs from unauthorized imitation.
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