Droves of fashion designers are showcasing their distinctive designs as the Fashion Week kicked off in New York on Thursday. These designs are borne from their creativity; their intellect.
Intellectual property (IP) is not just limited to inventions and books but fashion designs as well.
Fashion designs are under industrial design, simply the “special appearance of a product” — such as a piece of cloth with a unique print, like the checkered Burberry fabric, or a hat or shoe design with a unique appearance.
Industrial design only focuses on the outward appearance of your design, such as shapes or pattern. Visual appeal is what pushes the consumer to buy your product over a competitor’s.
All clothes perform the same function; the only way to stand out is having a visually striking design.
Registering a fashion design costs from Sh15,000 per design. This may be affordable to some fashion designers but not all — like the nascent ones, who have other kick-off expenses to worry about, such as fabrics, marketing, design space, sewing equipment and sketching tools.
That is why countries like the United Kingdom offer an unregistered form of protection for industrial design for a short period of time.
It is useful to fashion designers or small businesses on a tight budget.
Kenyan law doesn’t offer this kind of protection, unfortunately. That is something worth considering on our part.
Cost is one argument against registration. The other is that the life cycle of a fashion design is often brief because trends live and die very fast.
So why spend the money? Registration prevents others from copying your creative work. It prevents imitators from duplicating your unique design to earn from it.
The classic Chanel tweed suit, designed by Coco Chanel in the 1930s, sells at thousands of dollars.
From such pieces you can earn in perpetuity, but if you do not protect your design in time, copycats will steal your creative effort.
To protect your fashion design, firstly, file your application with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi).
Secondly, Kipi will do a search against existing designs to ensure that the design is novel (new).
Thirdly, the notice of application will be published in the Kenya Gazette or the Industrial Property Journal for anyone against the application to give a notice of opposition to Kipi.
Lastly, you will get a certificate of registration if there are no oppositions.
You may think that none of your fashion designs could ever become a classic. But fashion is unpredictable: Coco Chanel never predicted that her suit would become a classic, a symbol of timeless sophistication and feminine elegance to this day.
In fact, former United States first lady Jackie Kennedy wore a pink Chanel suit on the day her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Texas in 1963.
The suit quickly and inadvertently became a part of American history as the highly televised event led to its widespread recognition.
Their daughter, Caroline Kennedy, gave the suit as a gift to the US in 2013. Though in the National Archives, it will not be put on display until 2103 to avoid romanticising the disturbing assassination.
Ms Otieno, a lawyer, is a postgraduate student at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC). @LindaOtieno22