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What is licensing for pattern designs?

Oct 16, 2019Selling your designs4 comments


It can be really confusing if you’re new to designing learning how to go about selling your designs. You’ve probably heard about licensing designs but maybe you’re not exactly sure what the means.

What is licensing?

So first of all, licensing is essentially the leasing out of your design for someone to use under some set conditions that you have agreed for upon and there are lots of different ways that you can do this. But before I go into that, I want to compare licensing your work versus selling your designs outright.

Licensing versus outright sales

So if you were to sell your designs outright, you’re basically selling all of the rights of that design to somebody else. So basically that design becomes theirs and you can no longer use any part of that design yourself in the future. If you license your designs, you actually retain the copyright of that design. So you can then re-lease out that design down the track.

Different types of licensing

So there are two main ways of licensing your designs. You can either license them exclusively which means that someone will be licensing that design under set conditions and you won’t be able to license that same design to anybody else under those same conditions.

For example, it could be for a particular product or it could be for a product within a particular region. Your contract will be determined by what and your client agreed upon and will state all of the conditions for using your design and will need to be signed by both you and your client. You want to make sure that when you’re writing a contract that you seek legal advice as it’s a legal and binding document and you want to make sure you are legally covered.

Secondly you can license your designs non-exclusively. That means that you will be able to license that design, to as many people as you like at the same time. So you can potentially be earning multiple income from that one design at that same time.

Now under any of these conditions, once that licensing period has ended and that period will depend on what you have agreed upon in your contract e.g. two years, three years etc. (whatever licensing timeframe that you have agreed upon in your contract)  you have the ability to use and sell that design to anybody else  or you can use that design in whatever way you like. For example, you could take elements out of that if you wanted to, you could change the colours and relicense to a different market for a different season.

Make sure you keep in mind that if you do sell your designs outright you can’t reuse any part of that design at any point in time, whereas when you’re licensing your designs, once the contract is finished you are free to use the design again in any way.

Try and be open to both licensing and outright selling your designs

However, having said that  I know that a lot of people are very, very reluctant to want to sell their designs outright but I do highly encourage you to be open to selling and creating some designs that you’re happy to sell outright and also are open to working with clients to create designs that fit their needs. This will give you another income stream, it gives you another way of being able to sell your designs and it opens you up for more job opportunities. Also, I think that it’s really important to not get super attached to everything that you create. Remember that you are a designer and it’s your role to keep creating new designs. So if you can create designs that sell and people want to buy, then that’s a good thing.

I completely understand wanting to keep some designs that you will only license, particularly if you have some really important elements within those designs that you want to reuse. This is really relevant in particular if you’re creating illustrative work where you might have some characters that want to use in multiple designs or collections but it’s a good idea to also have some designs that you are happy to sell outright as it will open up your options for more income and gives you more ability to sell your designs.

So just keep that in mind that when you are licensing your designs, think about how you’re going to license them, what your happy to license for and then just be very transparent with your clients and make sure that you have all of the conditions documented in a contract that is signed by both you and them.

4 Comments

  1. Patricia

    Thank you very much for this post (and the previous, of course). It has been really useful for me.

    Reply
    • Pattern and Design

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad you found it useful 🙂

      Reply
  2. Beth

    Thank you for this! I was wondering if you could share more about how to write a contract and what those look like?

    Reply
    • Pattern and Design

      You’re welcome Beth 🙂
      In terms of contracts it’s such a big topic, I’ll try and cover some tips in an upcoming blog post.
      I would advise though if you are needing to create a contract that you seek legal advice to make sure you’re covering yourself properly

      Reply

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Should you license or sell your textile or surface pattern designs outright? Which is more profitable for your pattern design business? Here are a few tips to help you.
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