The textile industry has always been an innovative one. It’s also one of the oldest industries, dating back nearly to the dawn of civilization.
Despite the long history of textiles, there are still plenty of innovations to be made. These may include a trendy new fabric design that’s the talk of the runways in Milan or a woven fabric that could function as an implantable medical device. Regardless, some form of intellectual property, or IP, protection may be necessary.
A closer look at the history of textiles and its relationship to intellectual property will make this clear.
History of Textiles
From the Latin word “texere,” meaning “to weave,” textiles typically are flexible materials composed of networks of either artificial or natural fibers, which usually are called yarn. The yarn is then pressed, knotted, crocheted, knitted or woven into a textile.
Some of the earliest examples of textile manufacture date back to the sixth and seventh centuries BC in Europe. India was spinning cotton as early as 3,000 BC and was manufacturing silk by 400 AD. Egyptians began spinning and weaving linen around 3,400 BC while the Chinese started spinning silk around 2,600 BC.
Raw wool was the most commonly used textile material for centuries. Some societies also used flax or cotton. Textile operations were small, perhaps just a single cottage in a village where manufactured goods were painstakingly produced by hand.
In the latter half of the 18th century, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution permanently changed the textile manufacturing landscape. Hand production became less prominent during the following decades, and machines powered by steam or water dominated factories across Europe and America.
Innovations like the spinning jenny and the flying shuttle made it easier than ever before to produce mass quantities of textiles. Of course, all of these machines and their component parts needed IP protection, and so did some of the textiles that they were used to manufacture.
Textiles & Intellectual Property
Improvements in the manufacture of textiles go hand-in-hand with IP protection. An inventor who makes a significant improvement on a sewing machine or who builds an entirely new weaving machine certainly will want to seek patent protection for it.
However, other forms of IP protection also may be appropriate. It is possible to protect a new fabric or other textile with a design patent, which is directed to a “new, original, and ornamental design.” Obtaining design patent protection usually is less complicated than obtaining a utility patent, yet it still provides valuable coverage. Any non-functional aspect of the design may be protected, and this protection extends for a period of 14 years.
Alternatively, it may be appropriate to seek a trademark registration for a textile. In the U.S., trademarks function as source identifiers. It is possible for a fabric design as well as a footwear or clothing design to be protected as a trademark. Obtaining a trademark registration for a textile can be tricky as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not consider such designs “inherently distinctive.” Instead, the applicant must demonstrate a secondary meaning or some level of acquired distinctiveness before a registration is issued. A trademark registration can be maintained in perpetuity as long as the registered mark continues to be used in U.S. commerce.
Copyright Protection for Textiles
The other alternative is to seek copyright protection on a new and innovative textile. In the U.S., a copyright protects original works that are fixed in some tangible form. “Useful” articles that perform a basic function are not eligible for copyright protection. Accordingly, a design for a new pair of shoes or an overcoat would not be able to be protected by copyright.
Nonetheless, any original, non-functional design may be able to become a registered copyright. Although registration is not required in order to hold a copyright, it is recommended as it provides the owner with additional opportunities before the law to pursue anyone who infringes the registered copyright.
Contact the Williams IP Law
If you have invented a new and innovative textile or have made an improvement to a machine that manufactures textiles, then it’s wise to consider whether or not formal IP protection may be needed. When you hold a patent, registered trademark or registered copyright, then you may have the right to prevent others from producing a similar textile or copying your manufacturing improvement.
Contact Jeff Williams today to schedule a consultation to discuss this and other IP-related matters.