A multibillion-dollar industry is supported by fashion designers, who also serve as leaders in creativity and innovation. Yet, the issue of IP protection in Indian Fashion Law is complicated. Strangely, despite its continual expansion, the fashion business still has flaws. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) play a significant role in fashion law. The fashion industry relies heavily on protecting its intellectual property, including trademarks, copyrights, designs, and patents.
Copyright protection is available with the development of the fashion design. This is due to the fact that such works would have to fall under “work of artistic skill” since they do not cleanly fit into any of the specified divisions of “artistic works”. In contrast to their technical aspects, design rights protect the product’s aesthetic components.
The Dilemma of Conflicting Rights: Design vs. Copyright
According to Section 11 of the Designs Act, the registered owner of a design automatically gains ownership of the design’s copyright. However, it is prohibited by Section 15(1) of the Copyright Act for a design to be protected under both the Designs Act and the Copyright Act at the same time. Other courts have ruled that a design’s copyright expires if it has been commercially copied more than 50 times by the owner or another person with his agreement.
In its ruling in Microfibres Inc. v. Girdhar & Co. & Anr., the Delhi High Court attempted to clarify the distinctions between original artistic creations that are protected by the Copyright Act and designs that can be registered under the Designs Act. As long as the threshold limit of its application on an article by an industrial process for more than 50 times is met, the Design not registered under the Design Act will continue to be protected by copyright.
In the legal dispute between Ritika Private Limited and Biba Apparels Private Limited, the plaintiff asserted copyright in a number of sketches and paintings that were produced by her or printed on clothing for outfits sold under the trade name RITU KUMAR. The hon’ble High Courtof Delhi reiterated that a design must be registered under the Designs Act in order to be covered by copyright; otherwise, after it has been created more than 50 times via an industrial method, the design would no longer be protected.
Further, the court used the opportunity to address the issue of design losing copyright protection when it is produced commercially. In the current case, the defendant was using industrial methods to make the goods in question but is not applying a print that was derived from the copyrighted work to a dress it has made. As a result, it was determined that neither design protection nor a copyright violation had occurred.
This case is a prime illustration of how sizable, well-known fashion businesses exploit legal ambiguities to shield themselves from responsibility. With such a flawed interpretation, the purpose of really granting intellectual property rights to an artistic work is seriously undermined.
The Possibility of Trade Dress Protection
Although it is not a well-developed area of law in India, trade dress protection could offer the needed protection to underlying designs or to the form, size, and overall appearance of the goods. Another issue is that the requirements for trade dress protection are particularly strict because the goods must either have inherent or acquired distinctiveness. Only premium and well-known brands have thus far received protection in India, as evidenced by the case of Christian Louboutin SAS vs. Mr. Pawan Kumar & Ors.
Copyright protection lasts until it is used for industrial purposes, it restricts the rights that can be protected by it. Therefore one must consider whether the limitations imposed by Section 15(2) of the Designs Act of 2000 are fair and justifiable in terms of the copyright protection that is extended under that statute.
The Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. ruling by the US Supreme Court has had a significant impact on IP law in the fashion industry. By emphasizing that the purpose of copyright protection is not to create a monopoly, the court decided on the copyrightability of designs and the concept of “separability,” for affording protection under US copyright law, by emphasizing that the separability test should be applied to protect only those design features that can be separated from a garment or useful item. The same decision, though, frustrates designers because protection is only offered to specific areas of the garment and not the complete thing.
Consequently, it is great if the idea of trade dress is praised for giving fashion products protection. The same might be inferred from EU legislation that gives protection to clothing and accessories as a whole.
In conclusion, IPR protection is essential in the fashion industry to protect the creativity, originality, and uniqueness of fashion designs. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are the most common types of IPR used in the fashion industry, and they play a critical role in promoting innovation and creativity. As the fashion industry continues to evolve, it will be essential to ensure that IPR protection keeps pace with new technologies and designs.
Author: Mahima Agarwal, Legal Intern at PA Legal.
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