WHEN FASHION MEETS TECH: Intellectual Property Considerations

By definition, ‘fashion’ represents the latest craze or trend in [you name it] – décor, design, textiles, games, gadgets. In the world of apparel, fashion trends come and go, like the seasons. Shaped by society, culture, the media, art and a myriad of other influences, clothing fashions are both ephemeral and evolutionary. One international apparel trend that has caught my eye recently, is ‘fashion tech’. From fancy frocks that glow, to smart textiles that embed sensors to track a wearer’s biometric data, and reflective, protective streetwear, the possibilities brought by advances in technology when combined with design, are endless. No longer does one need to choose function over form, or vice versa. Providing there are strong underlying design principles tech-driven garments and accessories need not be bereft of style, too sci-fi, or gimmicky. Protecting your fashion creations

From an intellectual property standpoint, fashion designers have traditionally sought to protect their brands and creations through registered trade marks, copyright, and sometimes design registrations. Trade marks are used to protect brands in the form of logos, names, slogans, sounds, colours, or smells. Well-known examples in the world of fashion include the registered marks for Prada, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin. Closer to home, examples include the brands of Karen Walker, Andrea Moore, Trelise Cooper, Huffer, and Kathryn Wilson, to name only a few.

Copyright is used to protect the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself, so design sketches, textile patterns, garment and footwear prototypes, photographs, and colour arrangements, for example. In a recent case, Italian luxury footwear maker Aquazzura sued Ivanka Trump’s company for copyright infringement claiming that it had stolen the design of its hugely popular ‘Wild Thing’ sandal. According to Aquazzura, Trump’s ‘Hettie’ design has copied ‘nearly every detail’ of the Wild Thing. The case remains open. Registered designs are used to protect the visual appearance or shape of a product. To be registrable, a design feature must be new. Athletic clothing and footwear giant Nike, has a history of successfully registering designs for its footwear which invariably feature strong design and performance elements. What if your creations combine fashion and technology? Do the same tools for intellectual property protection apply?

In short, yes. But there may be other considerations worth bearing in mind. For example, if you are a fashion designer who is collaborating with a tech company, you’ll want to establish early on who owns what IP, how it can be used, and how each party is compensated. Wearable tech is often based on years of research and development, and by its nature it can have multiple applications regardless of how it’s worn or used. In most cases, some form of IP protection will be available for the technology itself. This could come in the form of designs, trade secrets, or even patents.

If you’re on the leading edge of technology-inspired fashion, chances are you’ll be innovating faster than ever before, creating novel concepts, designs, and products that can be protected with IP rights in some form. Take time to understand the role played by IP in that process because as London-based designers CuteCircuit recently predicted ‘all the devices we currently carry around with us – our mobile phones, cameras and wristwatches – will, in the future, disappear and become part of our clothing’. CuteCircuit says ‘technology is already getting up close and personal with the exclusive world of fashion’.

The important thing to remember is that IP is a business tool which needs to be considered at the earliest possible stage of the creative process. Used in the right way, it can help drive value and brand equity in a business, or help you guard against others copying your work.

If you need help to understand when, where, how and whether to protect your creations, seek advice from a qualified IP professional.

By Corinne Cole
Partner, AJ Park