If you want to protecting sewing patterns, it's complicated. Because copyright is all about protecting expression, it can protect the original text and images appearing in the pattern, as well as the envelope used to contain the pattern. However, the protection doesn’t extend to the ideas expressed in the pattern itself. Anyone can use these ideas to create an identical design.
Copyrights give the author the exclusive right to copy and distribute original works. Copyright violation is a serious offense that can give rise to substantial penalties. Registering the copyright of your pattern gives you the right to sue anyone who copies the text and images on the pattern.
Registering the Copyright
While a copyright exists from the very moment your text is created in tangible form, such as a document or a drawing, you cannot protect it in court without registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can register the pattern using the U.S. Copyright web site. You will need to complete a form, pay a fee, and upload or mail your pattern to the U.S. Copyright Office. The form requires you to certify that you are the author. You must state the title of the pattern, your name, your birth date, the year the work was created and the date it was published. Lack of publication is not a bar to getting a copyright.
If you are selling your pattern commercially, you can also apply for a trademark. A trademark can be any word, name, symbol or combination that tells the world that these are your patterns and not anyone else's. The whole point of a trademark is to prevent confusion in the marketplace. For example, when you buy an Apple tablet, the Apple trademark assures that you are not purchasing some knockoff of dubious quality. While the trademark won't protect your pattern, it does protect your brand.
Copyright and Fashion
The lack of intellectual property protection for fashions is a topic of hot debate. Many feel that extending copyright protection would limit designers, especially with regard to using vintage patterns or elements of vintage styles. The typical argument that copyrights provide incentive to innovate does not appear to apply to the fashion industry, which places new designs on the market every season.
- U.S. Copyright Office: Duration of a Copyright
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright in General
- U.S. Copyright Office: Electronic Copyright Office (eCO)
- U.S. Copyright Office: Form TX
- USPTO: Trademark Basics
- Georgetown University: Intellectual Property within the Fashion Industry or Lack Thereof
- The Design Observer Group: The Costs of Ownership: Why Copyright Protection Will Hurt the Fashion Industry
Shelly Morgan has been writing and editing for over 25 years for various medical and scientific publications. Although she began her professional career in pharmacological research, Morgan turned to patent law where she specialized in prosecuting patents for medical devices. She also writes about renal disease and hypertension for several nonprofits aimed at educating and supporting kidney patients.