Why? What? When? How? These are some of the most used words in John’s dictionary. He’s pretty curious about the workings behind what happens in his life, and many of those have to do with the inventions and the workings of intellectual property in the world around him.
Last weekend, John was roped into going shopping for a wedding, and the sheer number, types, and draping designs of sarees left him with a lot of questions. In particular, he wanted to know if this traditional piece of clothing could be protected by IP. And of course, to get his answers, he turns to IP Geek.
How’s it going, IP Geek?
I just had a long day where I went shopping with my grandmother and mother for a cousin’s wedding saree. They practically ended up fighting over which draping style to use for the reception saree. Of course, that made me think of all the different ways to drape a saree and now I’m wondering if it is IP that can be protected in some way. Any thoughts?
Hello there John, you do come up with some very interesting questions sometimes.
Clothing is an interesting object, from an IP point of view. It’s certainly quite unique in a lot of ways and very economically valuable, but the protection for it ends up being a little complicated.
That’s not to say there aren’t any clear ways of protecting IP related to clothes.
If your sarees are from a particular brand, you can trademark them. Patterns and designs on the saree can be protected either under the Copyright Act or the Designs Act, depending on the number of copies of the pattern that are being made.
That is good to know, yes. I’m sure saree designers and clothing designers would like to have their patterns protected as much as possible.
But the draping styles can get very elaborate, and a lot of them have long traditions associated with them- why can’t they be protected?
Generally speaking, it is very hard to get intellectual property protection for items or concepts which have been around for a while. This is primarily because you can’t usually tell who traditional IP can be attributed to, even if it has massive value.
The IP type that comes closest to protecting traditional sarees would be Geographical Indications or GI. This form of IP protection is unique in that it gives trademark-like (ie, indicative of recognition and authenticity) to handicraft items. Plus, these rights will be owned not by a person, but a collective of people, specifically an association or organization representing them. This allows traditional handicraft items to benefit the region and the families associated with the manufacture for generations.
India does already have nearly 30 registered GIs which are related to sarees. These mainly protect either the weaving or fabric of the sarees or specific traditional designs associated with them. Some examples include Banaras brocade with its distinctive patterns and Uppada Jamdani sarees with their lightweight fabric.
Draping, however, is not not something that can be protected by GIs, because these styles have no clear origin points or traditional craftspeople associated with them.
I see. So it’s something that’s gotten so popular that it’s effectively common property, and we’re better off trying to protect more unique elements like fabrics and patterns. Thanks, IP Geek!
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