If you have a clothing idea that you want to commercialize, you are likely interested in getting a patent for the idea.

It can be a little tricky to get a patent for clothing, but it certainly can be done.

In fact, there are two types of patents that you can choose from when getting a patent for your clothing.

These types of patents include design patents and utility patents.

While getting a patent is probably a good idea, it is not absolutely necessary until you are about to publicly release your design.

You should keep in mind the fact that you can only patent one clothing item at a time, though you can copyright a design that will appear on multiple items.

Read on to learn more about getting a patent for clothing. 

Types of Clothing Patents

As previously mentioned, there are two types of clothing patents: design patents and utility patents.

No matter which type of patent you choose, you will be able to prevent other parties from making, selling, or importing your patented item into the United States.

Either patent also gives you the right to license your patent to a third party.

Designers often license out patented clothing ideas to large apparel manufacturers.

Most clothing designers will choose a design patent instead of a utility patent for their clothing idea.

This is because their idea does not include any new technology.

Instead, the item of clothing is unique because of the way it looks.

Design patents can actually be a little harder to get than utility patents.

Not only does the look of the item have to be unique, the item cannot have any new aspects that actually influence the item’s function.

For example, a t-shirt with an original design on it can be protected with a design patent.

However, if the t-shirt is made in a unique way that makes it more stain-resistant, you will need to get a utility patent instead.

The design cannot be detachable from the item in any way.  

Using a Design Patent to Protect Your Clothing Idea

The majority of clothing designers choose a design patent.

The exception to this is generally in performance sports clothing, which is often protected by a utility patent because this clothing is functional rather than made purely for aesthetic reasons.

There are some guidelines that you have to follow when seeking to protect clothing with a design patent.

Perhaps the most important guideline that you have to follow is filing for the patent within a year of publicly disclosing its design.

Most clothing designers keep their designs secret until they are ready to get a patent (or even until they have actually received the patent).

This is to ensure that no one steals their design after the one-year period has expired.

If you do not file for the patent within the one-year grace period anyone can use your design and you are legally unable to patent it.

Issues That Arise When Protecting Clothing With a Patent

While experts agree that patenting an idea is always a good idea, it may not be possible for a sole proprietor or even a small company to do so.

This is because of the two issues that arise when looking to obtain a clothing patent.

Firstly, getting a patent can be surprisingly expensive.

Secondly, obtaining a clothing patent (or any other type of patent) is very time-consuming.

Obtaining a Patent Can Be Expensive

The expense of getting a clothing patent can be shocking for those new to the industry.

You will need to hire a patent attorney, and the attorney’s billable hours will make up a large portion of your expenses.

It is a good idea to look for a patent attorney that charges a flat rate instead of an hourly rate.

Even if you find an affordable attorney, you will have to pay them at least $1,500 per patent.

If your patent is especially complex, your attorney costs can run to $3,000 or more.

Unfortunately, attorney fees are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to patent costs.

You will also have to as much as $1,000 in various government fees for each patent.

When you take all these costs into account, it’s easy to see why sole proprietors and small companies cannot afford to patent many of their ideas.  

Obtaining a Patent Can Be Time-Consuming

Not only is getting a clothing patent expensive, it also takes a long time.

On average, it takes the United States Patent Office (better known as the USPTO) 20 months to review a patent application and make a decision.

Some clothing companies opt for the expedited patent process, which takes 10-12 months.

However, this type of patent application is more expensive.

Keep in mind that the USPTO may reject your patent application after this 20-month waiting period.

If this happens, you have two options: you can revise your design and resubmit the application or you can simply move on.

Is a Patent Really Necessary?

Patents are necessary, but they are not necessary right away.

You only have to get a patent within one year of the design being publicly disclosed.

Many small designers delay publicly disclosing their designs so that they have more time before they need to apply for a patent.

In short, designers do not really need to get a patent until they make their designs public.

How Many Items of Clothing Can I Protect With a Patent?

You can only protect one item of clothing per patent.

It is possible to protect multiple variations of one item of clothing.

However, this raises the chance of your patent application being rejected.

Copyright Protection for Images On Clothing

If you are coming up with art or images to put on clothing, you may not need a patent.

You can simply release your clothes under copyright protection.

You do not need to apply for this protection.

Many designers who put their designs on generic blank t-shirts opt for copyright protection rather than patent protection.

The Process of Obtaining a Clothing Patent

The first step in obtaining a clothing patent is to determine whether you actually need a patent yet.

If you do, you must hire a patent attorney.

Once you’ve hired the attorney, you must file your patent application with their help.

Once you’ve done that, all you can do is wait for the USPTO.

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