The brand of a business is an example of intellectual property. It is a valuable asset, particularly in the fashion industry, where the name of a designer or fashion house distinguishes the product from similar items on the market. The strongest form of protection for a brand is a registered trade mark. A trade mark, as its name suggests, identifies the name or logo of a product to customers, to enable them to distinguish it from those of other manufacturers, and to prevent other people "passing off" trademarked or branded goods as their own. Designers take great steps to protect their brands. They rarely release their goods to general wholesalers, and this can be a problem for potential stockists.
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Check whether any retailer in your locality already sells the brand you are interested in. Typically, the more exclusive brands seek to preserve the value of their product by controlling who sells it. You are unlikely to get permission to sell the product if there is already an outlet for it in your geographical area.
Contact the brand you are interested in and seek permission to sell their branded or trademarked clothing. Take photographs of your store in support of your application. Be prepared to have a representative of the brand visit your store, look at your other brands and make a decision on whether your outlet has the right image for the brand.
Comply with the brand's requirements in terms of licensing. They may require you to sign a legal agreement to protect the brand's intellectual property rights, and this may impose strict restrictions on your use of the brand image and your ability to resell items within certain geographical areas or to various classifications of purchaser. If in doubt, instruct a solicitor to review the documentation.
Know the law. The basic premise is that any brand-owning firm should be allowed to position its goods as it sees fit, to preserve the value of the brand. If you receive permission from the brand to sell its product, there is no issue regarding intellectual property infringement and you may go ahead and sell. If you do not receive permission, EU law may still assist you. This allows any person to import EU trademarked goods into the UK, even without the manufacturer's consent, as long as the goods were bought from a seller within the EU who himself has the appropriate permission to sell the goods. It is a trademark infringement to import the product from a non-EU country without the manufacturer's permission.
Tips and warnings
- Give your application the personal touch. Attend a fashion exposition and introduce yourself and your outlet to the target brand.
- Intellectual property is a knotty area of law. The best advice is to avoid the brand unless you have express consent to sell from the manufacturer, otherwise you expose your business to an infringement action.
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