Can Clothing or Jewelry be Patented?

As any designer knows, clothing and jewelry are items that often represent countless hours of careful design and production. These items are not only products with an inherent commercial value; they are uniquely artistic and intellectual expressions of their creators. As such, designers might wonder if they can patent their creation. In short, as long as the items fulfill the standard requirements for patent protection, they can be patented. The two types of patents under which clothing and jewelry could be protected are utility and design patents.

A utility patent protects “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof.” (1). Some examples of utility patents for clothing are: magnetic fastening assemblies for clothing, clothing made using spider silk, and a T-shirt with sleeve extensions. Some examples of utility patents for jewelry are: an interchangeable jewelry building system and jewelry with a magnetic closure. A utility patent allows the designer to secure the rights to a functional aspect of the item. A functional aspect refers to a part of the invention that relates to what the feature “does rather than by what it is.” (2). Given that most articles of clothing and jewelry make use of existing components and production methods, it is generally more difficult to secure a utility patent.

A designer is more likely to secure a design patent, which grants patent protection “to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” (1). Unlike the examples given for utility patents, a design patent would protect any piece of clothing or jewelry which contains a new design, even if such design does not relate to the functional aspects of the product. As discussed above, a functional aspect is a part of the invention characterized by what it does, not by how it looks like. An example of a non-functional aspect of a product is the design of a glass Coca-Cola bottle. The shape of the bottle does not serve a functional purpose, but rather it serves as an instantly recognizable design unique to Coca-Cola.

Importantly, a design patent is quite distinct from a trademark or and a copyright. A design patent protects a unique design feature rather than general branding. For example, a design patent could protect an invention such as an adjustable hooded jacket, but it could not protect an ordinary t-shirt with a company’s unique logo. If the company Nike wanted to produce a regular cotton t-shirt with no distinguishing features (i.e., a special threading technique, ventilation system, etc.), Nike would not be eligible for patent protection. However, Nike would have trademark protection since the Nike trademark distinguishes a Nike cotton t-shirt from other t-shirts.

The ability of designers and inventors to obtain patent protection for the unique features, designs, and manufacturing processes of their creations is an important and meaningful “tool to maximize the benefits from their designs.” (3).



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