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Fashion Imitations and Legal Threads: Navigating Intellectual Property Rights in India


In the dynamic realm of the fashion industry, the saying ‘following in someone’s footsteps’ takes on a new dimension, where the replication of designs is not a mere stride but a strategic dance. A thriving market for knockoffs has resulted from influencers’ endorsement of more reasonably priced alternatives to high-end products. Fundamentals concerning this trend’s effects on consumer perceptions, intellectual property rights, and brand integrity are brought up. Although they provide more affordable options, knockoffs and counterfeiting present a problem for luxury brands and designers who want to safeguard their creative investments. Not only this, this phenomenon also works in a bidirectional manner as these high-end brands copy from the local or thriving brands and new fashion designers who yet not have a holding in the industry.


The fashion industry is characterized by a dynamic landscape, and one notable phenomenon that is upending traditional market dynamics and consumer behaviour’s is the prevalence of knockoffs and counterfeits. At this stage, it is pertinent to mention the difference between a knockoff[1] and a counterfeit[2]. While a counterfeit is the replica of the original item designed in order to deceive, a knockoff has a slight change and the main idea may or may not be to deceive the consumer. The rise in the counterfeit/knockoff is seen in the early twenty-first century with the emergence of the internet and division based on social status.

Fashion Imitation
[Image Sources: Shutterstock]

More often than not, we have come across the replica or a dupe with minor alterations of a famous designer bag or clothes or shoes, etc. The internet is a democratizing force when it comes to knockoffs and the synergy between luxury brands and local designers. Up-and-coming artists can exhibit their work to attract attention and serve as an inspiration to well-known brands. On the other hand, high-end labels can find inspiration in grassroots innovation, so obfuscating the distinction between accessible and luxury fashion. But there are drawbacks to this influence of the digital age as well. The prevalence of counterfeits and knockoffs can be attributed to the ease with which designs can be copied and shared online. In the quick-paced world of internet-driven fashion, the distinction between inspiration and infringement becomes increasingly hazy, raising pertinent issues regarding intellectual property rights and moral behaviour.

India’s fashion industry accounts for 2% of the nation’s GDP, with textile apparel and handicraft exports accounting for 11.4% of total exports in 2020–2021[3]. India is the world’s top producer of cotton and the second-largest producer of silk. India’s textile and apparel industry accounts for 12% of export earnings, and it employs 100 million people in allied industries in addition to the nearly 45 million people directly employed by it. India also holds a 5% share in the global textile and apparel trade[4]. Hence, putting a proper law in place is a long-awaited dream. Consequently, it is high time now that the fashion industry takes a proactive strategy to protect intellectual property rights. The present structure that governs the industry is called “low-IP equanimity,” and it offers designers low protection[5]. Intellectual property rights are valuable resources that stimulate innovation and promote research and development making the business feel safe to have a competitive edge.

Intellectual property rights protection to the fashion industry

Trademark Act: Trademark Act plays a significant role in preserving a brand’s legitimacy and integrity, which is advantageous for the industry. However, the protection of fashion designs by trademark law is not perfected. Trademarks are beneficial when they are subtly integrated into a fashion design to the point where they are considered integral elements of the design. Using trademarked logos on the exterior or inside of garments is a frequent technique among fashion designers when creating apparel or accessories. In these cases, the logo becomes an essential part of the entire piece, offering a powerful barrier against design piracy. The Trademark Act, 1999 was created to provide fashion designers with a means of registering their trademark or brand name, ensuring that it is protected and barring any unapproved use.

Copyrights Acts 1957: A design cannot be registered under the Copyrights Act, 1957 if it is registered under the Designs Act, 2000. Furthermore, if a design is eligible for registration within the Designs Act, 2000 but has not been registered, it can only be protected within the Copyrights Act if its owner produces it in an “industrial process” no more than fifty times. In The case of Rajesh Masrani versus Tahiliani Design Pvt. Ltd[6], Mr. Masrani, the defendant, plagiarized the design and artistic work of Mr. Tarun, the plaintiff. Mr. Tharun and his company designed and produced a minimum of twenty models with distinctive designs and creative work that was either printed or stitched onto the fabric. According to the complainant, the defendant duplicated the same work without permission. The judge ruled that any good that may be duplicated and used to generate revenue shall be covered by copyrights, hence the proprietor of that kind of item may seek safeguard under the copyright laws. The original owner may assert protection under the Copyrights Act without registering as section 44 of the Copyrights Act[7] specifies the register of copyrights but does not limit the original owner from doing so. Registered copyright is merely an indication of ownership; it is not proof of ownership.

The Design Act, 2000: Any stylish article of clothing, decoration, or accessory is only as good as its designs. As already stated, the Designs Act protects initial designs that will be utilized in industrial processes, while the Copyright Act merely provides to safeguard designs up to a certain extent. In the case of Ritika Private Limited v. Biba Apparels Private Limited[8], the plaintiff was unable to seek protection under both the Copyright Act and the Designs Act because they failed to register the design under the Designs Act. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s inability to claim protection under the Copyright Act was due to the production of goods exceeding the value of fifty. However, in this case, since the design was not registered, the plaintiff could not avail themselves of these statutory protections. The Designs Act offers protection for ten years upon registration, with the option of a five-year extension.

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In recent times, the fashion business in India has experienced remarkable expansion. An important factor in growing the Indian economy is the fashion sector. While we do have certain laws in place, it is crucial to understand that at the ground level, there are many obstacles and difficulties pertaining to the acts. The registration under the Design Act is a time-consuming and expensive process hence, giving the thriving brands less scope to protect their brainchild and making them even more vulnerable. In addition to this, it takes months at length to obtain the registration and in case the design fails to hit the correct spot in the market, it leads to a huge loss of time and effort as the time for waiting for the registration will be of no use.

Most of the people are not even aware of such laws in place and hence legal awareness is the need of the hour. More IP Offices should be opened the registration cost should be decreased. The fashion industry’s sins like knockoffs and counterfeits, ought to be shielded from legal action by intellectual property rights. Hence, it has become a long-waited dream now that all these changes come in place.

Author: Aanvee Aggrwal, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to [email protected] or at IIPRD.

[1] Blacks Law Dictionary ‘Knock off Definition & Legal Meaning’ (The Law Dictionary) <> accessed on 28 January 2024.

[2] Blacks Law Dictionary ‘Counterfeit Definition & Legal Meaning’ (The Law Dictionary) <> accessed on 28 January 2024.

[3] Seguri Akash, ‘Intellectual Property Rights in the Sector of the Fashion Industry in India’ (2023) 3 Indian J Integrated Rsch L 1.

[4] Bhavna Rathee, ‘Textiles & Apparel’ (Invest India) <> accessed on 26 January, 2024.

[5] Vishaka Agarwal, ‘IPR Registration in Fashion Industry of India’ (2019) 24 JIPR 35-40.

[6] Rajesh Masrani v Tahiliani Design Pvt Ltd 2008 SCC OnLine Del 1283.

[7] The Copyright Act, 1957, s 44.

[8] Ritika Private Limited v Biba Apparels Private Limited 2016 SCC OnLine Del 1979.

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