By: Vinish Mehra
[Attorney - at - Law]
Asst. Prof. & In-Charge � IPR Cell
Intellectual Property Rights Cell, NIFT
National Institute of Fashion Technology

Intellectual Property Rights Cell

National Institute of Fashion Technology
Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of INDIA)

It was earlier last year that the existing international trading system ushered in a new IPR regime with the cessation of the �transition period� as provided for developing countries under the TRIPs Agreement.

Against much speculation as to whether many of the developing nations would keep their commitment to modify their existing IP Laws, especially apropos Patents, and bring them in conformity with TRIPs, the developing nations showed that they had the will and resolve to take-up the challenge upfront.

India too is no exception to this. Today, India is a fully TRIPs compliant nation�

�Intellectual Property in itself has always been an imperative component of international trading and economic system, however, these new developments accentuate all the more how globally interlinked national and international IP systems have become. Novel approaches to meet these emerging challenges have become correspondingly global, with concerned actions at the national and international levels to effectively �chip in� and �benefit� from IP advances.

IP and IPRs have emerged as critical economic and cultural assets with high value and mobility; and with this righteous recognition those in need of training in the field of IP have expanded accordingly. Today, the scope of the beneficiaries of IP teaching has stretched out beyond the legal profession and law faculties.

In light of the preceding factors, this paper is an attempt to focus on the challenges that lie ahead for premier Fashion Education institutions to analyze the importance of �IP teaching�. Equally important, it�s an endeavour to highlight the opportunities that Fashion and Design institutions can create for themselves as well as the industry in this �new� Intellectual Property regime.


The year 2005 brought about a pragmatic shift in our approach and outlook concerning the �Economic and Trade� policies as prevalent in India. India ushered in a new IPR regime by passing the 3rd Patent Amendment Bill to bring-in the domestic IP laws in conformity with the TRIPs Agreement. Further, phasing out of MFA and Liberalization of the retail sector has opened the doors of Indian market for global competitors. These developments, coupled with an increasing influence of WTO over global trade, have rendered an unequivocal importance to the issues concerning International Trade and more pertinently, issues apropos Intellectual Property (IP) and the related rights i.e. Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs).


IP has been on the radar screen of international commercial relations since the later 19th century. However, within the last decade, Intellectual Property (IP) has gained a greater prominence in international commercial transactions. Due to its ever-growing importance, it is therefore increasingly recognized that IP should be taught in institutions of higher learning. There are several key reasons behind this assertion �

� First, the national economies around the world, and indeed the global economy, are moving in the direction of �knowledge-intensive economies�;
� Secondly, the trade in �knowledge-intensive products� has increased dramatically; and,
� Thirdly, the scope of people becoming aware of the impact & importance of IP is increasing. [Source: www.wipo.int]


In light of the preceding factors, coupled with the increasing recognition of IP as an economic and cultural asset with high value and mobility, those in need of training in the field of IP have expanded accordingly. However, it�s disheartening to note that both the Education and Industrial sector in India, across-the-board, lacks in awareness regarding IP issues and their implications for product development, product design, service delivery, marketing, raising financial resources, exporting, licensing and/or franchising.

And Indian fashion and textile sector is no exception to this alarming fact.

In today�s knowledge-driven economy, a fundamental understanding of what constitutes Intellectual Property, the means to protect it and ways of effectively managing IP assets is crucial for any enterprise, and especially for those involved in international trade, as the stakes are usually higher.

Nevertheless, it is not the industry alone. There is a responsibility on others too. Before we protect IP, we must generate IP, which is worth protecting. Our educational institutions, industrial and promotional organizations, industrial laboratories will all have to gear-up to face this challenge.

Let�s not forget that in this increasingly globalizing and fast moving knowledge-economy, Indian fashion and textile industry would survive and flourish only when our fashion professionals are made aware of the benefits, which their intellectual creations are capable of generating, if managed effectively. Without this basic understanding, they (Industry) will not be able to develop and integrate IP into their business, marketing, and export strategies.

An Overview of IPRs relevant to Fashion / Design Sector

Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) have emerged as key business assets. The right use of IPRs can add tremendous value to business. IPRs as business tools perform the �offensive function� of corporate value acquisition and the �defensive function� of protecting the acquired value. Fashion Industry is no exception to this phenomenon.

In countries where the fashion industry has evolved into an organized industrial sector, like the EU, the importance of the aforesaid �dual-role� of IPRs has been well defined. In India, though Fashion industry is yet to evolve into an organized sector, there have been Intellectual Property Laws in place to safeguard the economic and moral interests of the fashion industry.

There is no doubt about the tremendous value of intellectual capital being generated in this industry, be it high-fashion �Couture� or ready-to-wear �pr�t� or �street wear�. Yet little attention, if any, is paid to protecting these intellectual assets - the primary source of competitive advantage for all businesses.
It must be well understood that protecting, recognizing, and encouraging the �labour�, �skill� and �capital� of another is the object of IPRs, and all these parameters are ubiquitous in every product which comes out of a fashion enterprise.


Almost all the various forms of IPRs find a direct and immediate application in this Industry/Sector. Copyrights (in terms of Artistic and Creative works); Trademark (in terms of Brands, Fashion/Designer Labels, Trade Dress, By-lines); Design (in terms of new & original Creative Innovations and Product Development); Patent (in terms of new products and processes vis-�-vis Manufacturing Technology and Wet Processing); Trade Secrets (in terms of Anthropometric studies, Size Measurement Charts, Industrial Patterns, Customized Production Systems and the Proprietary Data generated with the help of various planning, design, and pattern-making soft wares); Geographical Indication (GI) (in terms of unique handicrafts and fashion articles having a specific quality or reputation, originating in the various design/craft hubs in the country); and last but not the least, though not officially recognized by TRIPs, Traditional Knowledge (TK) or Indigenous Knowledge (IK) (in terms of unique designs, motifs, and production methodologies coming from the traditional artisans and craftsmen of the country) - are the various forms of IPRs, which have a unswerving and indispensable role to play in this sector.

Traditional Knowledge (TK) and its Significance

Apart from Trademark, Design, Patent, and Copyright related issues, which are quite critical to this sector; �Indigenous knowledge� or �Traditional Knowledge� is one area which is of extreme significance and importance, especially for a country like India.

India has a very rich textiles and handicrafts heritage in terms of plenteous weaves, dying and printing techniques, embroideries, motifs, designs and production know-how, which are unique to this country. This vast repertoire of knowledge, which is still being developed and transmitted by our indigenous artisans / craftsmen from one generation to the next, often in oral form, needs to be protected.

However, it�s discouraging to note that this knowledge is under threat from neglect by our own policy makers. IP Laws in India have had almost a docile and stagnant existence ever since they were framed with the result that the inadequacies of Indian laws were often exploited by commercial opportunists world over, without giving due credit to the indigenous artisans, craftsmen and rural communities. On one hand, we are victims of bio-piracy, the west running away with our valuable Indigenous knowledge, on the other, we have failed to put in place a system to protect our Traditional Knowledge & the interest of the local communities who have generated this important knowledge system.

Today, India is in Basmati - Turmeric � Tamarind - Neem soup. These happenings of late have sound warning bells and awaken our government to the fact that our heritage of resources, products, and knowledge doesn�t merely need a continuation of their existence but also statutory protection and preservation.

And apart from providing for the said protection, we also need to transform this traditional know-how into commercial reality and �IPRs� is the tool for that.

NIFT: A Case Study�

It will not be out of the context to mention here that in response to this (aforementioned) existing gap, NIFT has come forward to shoulder the dual responsibility of not only imparting fashion and design education but also disseminate basic IP awareness amongst the fashion fraternity in general and student body, the future professionals, in particular. This would not only help in promoting a healthy IP culture but would also equip and acquaint the budding professionals with the �basic understanding� of IP issues and the �means and ways� to protect and safeguard their economic and moral interests.


A specialized Intellectual Property program dealing with four main aspects of intellectual property practice: 1) the nature of IP and extent of rights that are available to protect intellectual property; 2) the resulting business implications; 3) the process of obtaining and registering intellectual property rights; and 4) strategic management & enforcement of intellectual property rights once acquired, has been designed to cater to the specific needs and related concerns of the Industry.

In addition, an IPR Cell has been established at the Head Office, New Delhi; and an Intellectual Property Policy has been developed by the IPR Cell to support NIFT Centers in their efforts to handle and deal with the emerging intellectual property (IP) issues.


All this will not only enable NIFT to identify, secure, and manage the resulting Intellectual Property rights in teaching, research findings, inventions, design collections, other innovations, and academic works produced by the NIFT community, but will also facilitate NIFT to leverage maximum commercial benefits.

As a result, it is expected that there will be greater collaboration between the institute�s system, and the industry as a whole, thus ensuring that NIFT centers are laying the foundation for knowledge-based economic and cultural development.

NIFT�s Cluster Development Initiative


NIFT has also undertaken �Cluster Development Initiative� which would go a long way in providing a �face� and �commercial value� to products originating from various traditional and indigenous craft/design hubs in the country.

Much is yet to be accomplished. �..

NIFT has made a start but still there is a long way to go in order to ensure that �Basmati-Neem� episode in not repeated in any other form and manner.


Fashion - An effective catalyst

Given the influence that �fashion� yields in the society; and the standing fashion institutes enjoy, they can be a perfect medium to help raise consciousness for the aforementioned causes.

With effective and meaningful partnerships with indigenous artisans & craftsmen; individual designers, exporters, brand owners; promotional/industrial organizations like FDCI, CMAI, FICCI, CII, AEPC; other premier academic institutions, including Law Schools; and eminent Law Firms practicing IP - Fashion Institutions can play an effectual catalytic role in fostering the much needed IP culture - eventually leading to attainment of their fundamental objective � promotion and growth of the Indian Fashion Business.

Concluding Statement

We need to reach out and spread our wings�. we need a core group of evangelists for our cause� and by incorporating IP education in the course curriculum, every premier fashion and design institution must reach out to the people and generate a team of ambassadors who will help spreading the message further.

Dissemination of IP awareness will help all of us to achieve our mission in a much more accomplished and professional manner.

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property rights have been on the wrong end of the policies and on the margins of Indian intelligentsia and the industrial/educational movements for too long. It�s imperative that this felonious neglect be stopped. It is only then that a country so proud of its culture and heritage will be able to protect and safeguard its �Intellectual wealth.�

And �we� at NIFT have made a start�

� 2006 . VM . All rights reserved


About the author:


Vinish Mehra heads the IPR Cell at NIFT. He is a trained Intellectual Property Attorney specializing in Media, Technology, and IP Laws. He is also a NIFT postgraduate and prior to joining the legal profession, has served the fashion industry in various managerial capacities. Presently, he is working as an Asst. Professor with NIFT Head Office, New Delhi. He may be reached at: vinish.mehra.is@gmail.com / vinishmehra@niftindia.com / 09871819990 (M)

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