June 14, 2023

Surface pattern design licensing and copyright explained

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
A decade's worth of fashion experience across; product design, development, sourcing & logistics

One of the most important, but lesser explored parts of the surface pattern design industry involves the intricacies of surface pattern design licensing and copyright.

Playing a crucial role in protecting the originality and commercial value of the artist, surface pattern design licensing and copyright is a vital part of the industry few know.

In this article, we will delve into the important aspects of surface pattern design licensing and copyright, shedding light on the rights, legalities, and benefits associated with them.

But first, a quick summary.

  • Licensing in surface pattern design - Licensing allows designers to grant others the right to reproduce and distribute products featuring their patterns, while retaining pattern ownership.
  • Benefits of licensing in surface pattern design - Surface pattern design licensing provides opportunities to generate income by without the need for production or marketing efforts.
  • Copyright protection for surface pattern designers - Once a pattern is created, it is protected by copyright law, granting the designer exclusive rights to distribute the design.
  • Surface pattern design licensing types - Collaboration agreements, contractual obligations and royalties and are different types of surface pattern design licensing types.
  • Best practices in surface pattern design licensing - Research, documentation and education to the community ensures best practices in surface pattern design licensing.

Read on for more in-depth info and analysis on surface pattern design licensing.

Surface pattern design licensing is an important skill to know for an artist
Surface pattern design licensing is an important skill to know for an artist

🐾 Understanding surface pattern design

Before we get into the licensing for surface pattern design, let’s first get into a little background.

For more information on what is surface pattern design the key surface pattern design techniques, checkout our blogs on the topic.

What is surface pattern design?

Surface pattern design is a specialized field that involves creating visually appealing patterns that are applied to various surfaces, including fabrics, ceramics, wallpapers, and more.

These designs can range from intricate floral motifs to bold geometric shapes, and they are instrumental in enhancing the aesthetics of products in numerous industries.

Importance of surface pattern design

Surface pattern design plays a crucial role in product differentiation and branding.

Unique and captivating patterns help companies stand out in the market, attracting customers and creating a distinct visual identity for their products.

The demand for innovative and eye-catching patterns has grown significantly in recent years, making surface pattern design an integral part of many industries.

For more in-depth topics on surface pattern design I’ve linked them below.

📑 Surface Pattern Design Licensing

Ok, now that’s out the way, let’s look into what is surface pattern design licensing, and what surface pattern design licensing means for designers.

What is licensing?

Licensing is a legal agreement between the owner of intellectual property (IP) rights and another party, granting them permission to use the IP in specific ways.

In the context of surface pattern design licensing, this allows designers to grant others the right to reproduce, distribute, and sell products featuring their patterns.

While the surface pattern design licence means ownership of the design itself is retained by the designer themselves.

Licensing in the surface pattern design industry

In the industry, surface pattern design licences and agreements are commonly used to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between designers and their clients.

These man be:

  • Retailers
  • Manufacturers
  • Agents

These surface pattern design licences outline the terms and conditions under which the licensed patterns can be used, including the duration, territory, and exclusivity of the license.

Checkout our blog on how brands source patterns and prints for more on this part of the topic.

Benefits of surface pattern design licensing

Surface pattern design licensing offers several benefits to both designers and licensees.

Surface pattern designers

Surface pattern design licensing provides opportunities to generate income by monetizing their designs without the need for extensive production or marketing efforts.

Surface pattern design licensing also allows them to expand their reach by collaborating with established manufacturers or entering new markets.

Many designers in our community such as Bex and Dana will commonly licence their surface pattern designs to the third parties mentioned earlier.

Want to learn more about this part of topic.

I’ve linked our blog on it.


Surface pattern design licensing offers access to unique and marketable designs without the need to invest in design creation from scratch.

They can leverage the appeal of these patterns to enhance their product offerings, attract customers, and increase sales.

© Copyright protection in surface pattern design licensing

Ok, so now we’ve got through the basics of surface pattern design licensing, let’s get into the more complex nature of copyright protection.

Before moving onto best practices.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that grants creators exclusive control over the use and distribution of their original:

  • Artistic
  • Literary
  • Intellectual works

It provides creators with the power to decide how their works are used, reproduced, and monetized.

Copyright protection for surface pattern designs

As well as surface pattern design licensing, surface pattern designs are eligible for copyright protection as original artistic works.

Once a pattern is created, it is automatically protected by copyright law, granting the designer exclusive rights to

  • Reproduce
  • Distribute
  • Display

The original design, created by the surface pattern designer.

Copyright infringement and consequences

Unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted surface pattern designs constitutes copyright infringement.

And copyright infringement is a serious breach all designers take seriously.

Copyright owners have the right to take legal action against infringers, seeking damages and injunctions to prevent further unauthorized use.

Copyright infringement can have serious consequences, including financial liabilities and damage to reputation.

A member of our community and surface pattern designer, Feanne first allowed us to learn about this infringement and consequences.

She found her art, copywrighted on pieces of clothing selling for hundreds of dollars.

Another company was illegally making money from her art and her work.

Given that’s her main source of income, it’s something she didn't take lightly.

Making sure your work is watermarked is important
Making sure your work is watermarked is important

🪪 Licensing and copyright considerations

Obtaining proper surface pattern design licensing

Before entering into any a surface pattern design licensing agreement, it is essential to ensure that both parties clearly understand the terms and obligations involved.

Designers should carefully vet potential surface pattern design licensees, considering their reputation, distribution channels, and target markets.

Similarly, licensees should review the licensing terms, ensuring they align with their business goals and limitations.

Some surface pattern designers in our community have suggested doing this vetting early, or through an agent to ensure theres no further issues down the road.

Registering copyright for surface pattern designs

Although copyright protection is automatic upon creation, designers can benefit from registering their surface pattern designs with relevant copyright offices.

This ensures the issues mentioned in the case with Feanne earlier, never happen again.

Registering provides additional evidence of ownership and facilitates legal actions in case of copyright infringement.

Which, as the story suggests is definitely worthwhile doing.

Exclusive vs. non-exclusive licensing

[Designers can choose to license their patterns exclusively to a single surface pattern design licensee or opt for non-exclusive licensing, allowing multiple licensees to use the same design](https://copyrightalliance.org/education/copyright-law-explained/copyright-transfers/exclusive-vs-non-exclusive-licenses/#:~:text=Exclusive and Non-Exclusive Licenses&text=A copyright exclusive license is,the same right to others.).

Exclusive licensing offers greater control and potentially higher royalty rates, while non-exclusive licensing can provide wider exposure and multiple revenue streams.

Balancing the outcome of both and choosing the best for your case is the most important part of this decision according to our community member Adriana.

®️Maintaining intellectual property rights

Monitoring and enforcing rights

To protect their intellectual property rights, designers should actively monitor the market for any unauthorized use of their patterns or breaks in their surface pattern design licences.

They should regularly check

This monitoring of surface pattern design licensing infringement protects the community and artists work as a whole.

Cease and desist notices

When surface pattern design copyright infringement is detected, designers can issue cease and desist notices to the infringing parties.

These notices formally request the immediate cessation of the unauthorized use and may serve as a first step toward resolving the matter without legal action.

Legal recourse for copyright infringement

If a copyright infringement dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation or cease and desist notices, designers have the option to pursue legal action.

Legal recourse can involve

  • Filing lawsuits
  • Seeking damage
  • Obtaining court orders to stop the infringing activities

One thing the surface pattern designer needs to bare in mind is wether the cost associated with the case is more than the actual surface pattern design copyright or licensing infringement.

❤️ Collaborations and contracts

Collaboration agreements

Collaboration agreements are crucial when designers work with other parties, such as manufacturers or retailers, to produce and distribute products featuring their patterns.

These agreements define the rights, responsibilities, and revenue-sharing arrangements between the collaborating parties.

As mentioned earlier, getting these agreements signed off earlier, is best for all parties involved in surface pattern design licensing.

Contractual obligations and terms

Contracts in the surface pattern design industry should clearly outline the licensing terms, including

  • The scope of use
  • Exclusivity
  • Royalty rates
  • Contract duration

This is by the far the most important part of surface pattern design licensing.

As it ensures contract terms are mutually beneficial and sometimes complex uses of an artists work are set in a legal document.

No surface pattern designer wants to see their work on a product, country or category that is making lots of sales that they are not entitled to.

Keeping your eyes open and covering all angles is crucial for surface pattern design licensing.

Royalty and compensation

Last but by no means least, designers earn royalties or compensation from licensing their surface pattern designs.

Royalty rates are typically a percentage of the sales generated by the licensed patterns.

The specific terms and rates should be established and agreed upon in the licensing agreement or contract.

Repeat after me.

Earlier the better.

🚀 Best practices in surface pattern design licensing and copyright

Conducting market research

Designers should conduct thorough market research to identify trends, target markets, and potential licensees.

Understanding the market demand and competition can help designers create patterns that are commercially viable and appealing to potential licensees.

There are number of Facebook communities I’m a part of that contain surface pattern designers more than happy to help their fellow designers not get tricked in an area non of them love.

I’ve listed a few of the best ones below.

Documenting licensing agreements

All licensing agreements and contracts should be documented in writing.

Clear and detailed agreements help avoid misunderstandings, protect the rights of both parties, and serve as a reference point in case of disputes.

Hiring a lawyer either on a retainer or to create the initial contract can save designers lots of money in the future for any issues that may arise from surface pattern design licensing disputes.

Educating clients and customers

Designers should educate their clients, customers, and the general public about the importance of licensing and copyright.

Creating awareness about the value of original designs and the consequences of copyright infringement helps foster respect for intellectual property rights.

Many of the designers in our community create their art because of the love of being creative, and designing beautiful things.

Copywriting kills that, which means their are less likely to pursue their art, and we all experience less beautiful products.

As consumers we should ensure their receive fair pay and recognition for their work so we can all experience the beautiful products they create.

🤖 Emerging trends and challenges

Digital licensing and distribution

With the rise of e-commerce and digital platforms, designers and licensees are increasingly exploring digital licensing and distribution models.

Digital licensing allows for quick and efficient dissemination of patterns, expanding market reach and accessibility.

International copyright protection

As surface pattern design becomes a global industry, designers face challenges related to international copyright protection.

Understanding international copyright laws and seeking legal advice when expanding into foreign markets is crucial to safeguarding intellectual property rights.

Especially in emerging markets with less regard for IP such as China, having concrete surface pattern design licensing protection is a must.

Design theft in the digital age

The digital age has made it easier for design theft and copyright infringement to occur.

Designers should employ digital watermarking, copyright notices, and other security measures to deter unauthorized use and protect their original designs.

As hard as this may be, there are new design softwares out there on the market today that allow [this kind of digital watermarks to take place](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_watermarking#:~:text=A digital watermark is a,the copyright of such signal.).

Ensuring a designers original work is always trade marked to their name.

🔚 Conclusion

Surface pattern design licensing and copyright are fundamental aspects of protecting and commercializing original designs.

By obtaining proper licensing, registering copyright, and enforcing their intellectual property rights, designers can maximize the value of their creations and establish sustainable revenue streams.

Collaboration, contracts, and best practices further contribute to the growth and success of the surface pattern design industry.

When designers are paid well, all consumers benefit.

So protecting their interests is in as much their benefit as everyones.


  1. How long does copyright protection last for surface pattern designs?Copyright protection for surface pattern designs typically lasts for the life of the creator plus an additional 70 years after their death.
  2. Can I license my surface pattern designs to multiple licensees?Yes, you can choose to license your designs to multiple licensees through non-exclusive licensing agreements, allowing for wider distribution and potential revenue streams.
  3. Is it necessary to register my surface pattern designs for copyright?While copyright protection is automatic upon creation, registering your designs with relevant copyright offices provides additional evidence of ownership and legal advantages in case of infringement.
  4. How can I enforce my copyright if someone infringes on my surface pattern designs?In case of copyright infringement, you can issue cease and desist notices and, if necessary, pursue legal action through lawsuits to protect your rights and seek appropriate remedies.
  5. What should I consider when collaborating with manufacturers or retailers for my surface pattern designs?When collaborating, it is crucial to establish clear contractual obligations, including licensing terms, royalty rates, and intellectual property ownership, to ensure a mutually beneficial and protected partnership.

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