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Intellectual property and the textile sector

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Exciting times lie ahead for the textile sector. At one of our previous seminars Allied Textiles, the University of Leeds and the Textile Centre of Excellence shared with the audience the opportunities that are available for growth.

The UK has always led the way in terms of textiles innovation so it is essential that the intellectual property in everything we produce and sell globally is protected.

Intellectual property protects innovation and strong brands. Some of the most interesting cases we have worked on have been for our textile industry clients. Below are a few examples to give you some pointers as to how intellectual property might be relevant for your business. Whilst I talk about products, most IP rights apply equally to services as well.

Copyright infringement – of textile designs

New fabric designs are protected by copyright. Copyright arises automatically in the UK when a new design is created, and you don’t need to register it. We recently had a case for a client which had expanded its business into China, selling its innovative and eye-catching fabrics which it designs itself. At the first exhibition it attended after launching in China, the client was horrified, although probably not that surprised, to find that its fabric designs had been copied wholesale by a large number of Chinese companies, right down to the photographs of its room layouts on the front of its pattern books. The client did the right thing and took lots of evidence of this, including photographs of the exhibition stands showing the infringing products and taking the business cards of the offending companies. We worked with Chinese attorneys to pursue the infringers. As you might imagine, it was quite difficult to get the Chinese infringers to engage with us. However, the client found that, when it went to the next exhibition in China, there were no companies infringing its designs. Even though we hadn’t obtained a formal remedy against the infringers, word had got round the industry that the client would pursue companies which were copying its designs, and the copying stopped. So, whilst it might be more difficult to take action in China than in the UK, it is possible to obtain good results there.

One way in which it may be even easier to protect your new fabric or product designs is by protecting them with a design registration. A registered design gives you a monopoly, and even if people come up with the same design independently, you can use your registered design to prevent them from selling it. More importantly, you can use your registered design to prevent people from simply ripping off your new designs, which I appreciate can be costly and time consuming to create.

If you trade in several countries in Europe, it’s possible to obtain a Community registered design. This is a single registration which protects your design in all 28 countries in the EU and only costs a few hundred pounds to obtain.

Trade mark infringement

We’ve dealt with many cases for companies in the textiles industry who have wanted to protect and enforce their brands. Having a registered trade mark for your brand in the countries in which you trade is invaluable. Once your business becomes successful, it becomes a target for people trying to make a quick buck and take advantage of all of the time, effort and money which you have spent in building up your brand and your reputation. If your brand is registered, it is much easier to prevent people from taking advantage of it.

We see this happening in many different ways in the textiles industry. For example, people set up websites with web addresses which include your brand or a variation of it, or they register your brand name as a Google adword. They then use this to re-direct customers who are trying to get to your website to their own sites, so that they can then sell competing products instead of yours. You can see how a business could lose significant sums through this activity. Having your brand registered as a trade mark makes it easy to take action against these people and have their websites or Google adwords taken down.

We’ve also taken action for clients who have found websites which are plastered with their logo, to draw people in to the website, only to find that that website doesn’t actually sell their products. We can use different ways to have your logo removed, or even to have the whole website taken down. In a recent case, it took just eight minutes from submitting our complaint to the host of the website to the whole site being taken down. I do have to admit that this is a record for us. It’s not always as quick and easy as that, but there’s certainly always something that can be done to stop misuse of your logos.

If you suffer from counterfeit products being brought into the UK, notifying Customs of your registered trade marks and designs can assist in having the counterfeits stopped at the point of entry and them never reaching their intended customers.

Like designs, it is possible to have a Community trade mark which covers all 28 countries in the EU. This can be obtained for low cost and can be renewed to last as long as you like.

Patent infringement

Patents are the perfect IP right for protecting innovation. Patents protect inventions, and this can either be an inventive product or an inventive process. Patents give you a complete monopoly on the invention in the countries in which your patents are granted. So like designs, even if someone later comes up with the same invention, you can prevent them from using it. It’s a very strong right.

If you think that you may have something which could be patentable, it’s important to seek advice early. You can’t get a valid patent if you’ve disclosed your invention, unless you did so confidentially. We’ve had clients who have blown the chance to obtain what could have been really valuable patents by showing their inventions at exhibitions or putting them on their websites before their patent application is filed. So, if you’re dealing with something that you think could be inventive, always consider patents to ensure that you don’t miss your chance to get one.

Conclusion

Consider registering new designs. There is a grace period of a year after launch of a new design during which you can see if it’s selling well and worth protecting. You could choose your most successful designs and take steps to protect those. They’re probably the ones which will be copied the most.

Register your brand as a trade mark in all of the countries in which you trade – it makes it much quicker and easier to stop misuse of your brand than trying to rely on unregistered rights.

Keep a regular check on the internet to see if anyone is misusing your name or logo. Take quick action when you find this to have the misuse stopped.

Think about protecting yourself not only in the countries in which you trade but also in countries where your products are produced. Whilst countries like China don’t have the same respect for IP that we do in the UK, it is still possible to get good results there if you act quickly and decisively.

If you have a new website designed for you, always make sure you obtain an assignment of the copyright in the website from the web designer. This must be in writing and signed by the web designer. Standard terms and conditions are not usually sufficient as they’re not generally signed. Without this, you don’t own the legal title to the copyright in your website, even though you may have paid for the work to be done. This is something which catches out businesses all the time as it’s counterintuitive. It’s easy to remedy, but make sure you do so whilst you have a good relationship with your web designer.

Also, check that your domain name, which is your web address, is registered to your company, and not to your web designer or an individual within your company. If it’s not registered to your company and you fall out with the person that it is registered to, it can be difficult to get control of your own web address and therefore your website, which can be catastrophic.

Any questions please email Esther Kirwan at esther.kirwan@clarionsolicitors.com or give her a call on 0113 336 3432.
  

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