Are fashion designs protected by intellectual property laws? [Pulse Explainer]


What does the law say about protecting your fashion design ideas?

Can fashion designs be protected by copyright?

Fashion designs can mean several things. A fashion design can mean a sketch, a color, like Louboutin’s famous red bottom shoes, a type of fabric or the way the outfit is cut or the patterns on the fabric.

Copyright law in Nigeria protects literary works, musical works, artistic works, cinematographic works and sound recordings.

Even though copyright does not protect color, it does protect sketches to some degree, i.e. the original.

Your sketch may not be copied, shared or shown in public without your permission. However, original expressions, not ideas, are copyrighted. Therefore, it doesn’t necessarily prevent others from making clothes that look like your sketch because the protection is in the design itself, not the idea behind it.

When it comes to graphic design or textile designs (like Versace prints), these are definitely copyrighted as they come under artistic terms. However, words cannot be copyrighted.

The way a fabric is cut is not protected by copyright law. Since Nigeria does not have much authority on this point, we would use some persuasive authority from the United States. In Marques Star Athletica vs. Varsity the Supreme Court ruled that copyright confers “no right to prohibit anyone from making [clothing] of identical shape, cut and dimensions.

Since we know that copyright does not fully cover your fashion designs, does trademark law offer some protection?

Trademarks refer to certain words, colors or symbols that make a mark distinct and easily recognizable. When it comes to fashion design, most designers trademark their business name and symbols. for example the famous D&G symbol of Dolce and Gabbana.

Most of the intellectual property protection fashion designers have is patents – even sketches can be patented, but they have to be innovative.

Nigerian patent law is governed by the Patents and Designs Act 1970, which provides that a patent may be granted for an invention which: is new; involves an inventive step (“not obvious”) and is capable of industrial application (“useful”);

Relevant patents come in two types: utility patents (which protect practical inventions and processes) and design patents which protect the design of a product. You may be able to use a design patent to protect garments that have a new cut, pattern, design, or embroidery. For your fashion design to be considered a patent, there must be a certain level of creativity and innovation.

Different types of products are eligible for design patent protection, for example, glasses, shoes, bags and handbags.


Protecting your fashion design intellectual property is risky business, but remember that graphic design and textiles can be copyrighted. Patent protection is broader and includes fit and design. It does not exist, however, because you created a design, it must be requested and granted.


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