Being a designer involves being a creative, but being a business owner involves creativity as well as a legal and moral responsibility. Filing trademarks is one of the most important aspects of developing a brand’s image and conserving the individuality of designs. It may not be enough just to trademark your name and logo; as a preventive measure companies should register trademarks in multiple categories and subcategories of goods to cover any possible counterfeit. Without doing so, manufacturers could create a product in a different category but stemming from the same idea. China follows ‘first to file’ policy whereby the company that filed the first trademark for a design will own the intellectual property for that design. Therefore, it is essential to register your trademark as quickly as possible to protect your intellectual property.
Although there are risks associated with manufacturing in China, there are financial advantages such as cheap labour costs and mass production, which are beneficial for a start-up company looking to limit its initial outgains. If you are keen to manufacture in China, attempt to spread stages of manufacturing across provinces to avoid factories ‘sharing’ intellectual property. It would also be advantageous to manufacture under a different name to your brand to prevent potential Intellectual Property thieves from setting up business near the factory with access to all of your branded materials and your ideas.
There are many ways to protect your intellectual property and legislators have taken notice of the threat of counterfeit goods by introducing laws intended to prevent further expansion of the counterfeit market. The Ads Integrity Alliance started in June 2012 as a joint initiative between Google, AOL, Facebook and Twitter to combat paid-for advertisements for counterfeit goods. Additionally, in November 2012, law enforcement agencies in Denmark, Belgium, France, Romania and the UK seized 132 domain names selling counterfeit goods online. Earlier this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials seized 1,190 pieces of jewellery valued at nearly $3 million in counterfeit Tiffany's, Cartier, Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton and Rolex jewelry en route to Texas from China. Whilst institutions and lawmakers are keen to tackle the counterfeit industry, without properly protecting intellectual property rights the rapid expansion of the industry can still pose a risk to designers.
Kering v Alibaba
Kering, the luxury holdings group responsible for brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney filed a suit alleging that counterfeits of Kering brands proliferate on the Internet shopping platforms of Alibaba- China’s biggest e-commerce site. Rather than continue with litigation, Kering and Alibaba established a collaboration to tackle the counterfeit industry. In separate email statements, the companies said, “Kering and Alibaba have agreed to work together in good faith through the normal business process on ways to enhance intellectual property protection”.
Moncler v Beijing Nuoyakate Gourmet
In December 2014, luxury outerwear maker Moncler won the legal battle against Beijing Nuoyakate Gourmet; who produced and sold down jackets with Moncler’s logo. Moncler, whose jackets can sell for up to $5,000, was awarded €420,000 in damages by an intellectual property court in Beijing. According to Moncler, this was the first judgement under China’s new trademark law to grant maximum statutory damages.
However rapid the expansion of the counterfeit industry, the fashion industry remains an inspiring hub of creativity and individuality. To maintain designers’ originality, it is important to take precautionary steps to protect intellectual property and prevent the counterfeit industry from infringing on copyright or trademarks. So whilst legal issues may not be as glamorous as fashion shows or spreads in Vogue, legal protection is vital for brands to maintain their authenticity and continue to inspire legions of admirers.