New York Fashion Week is officially underway, with both established and emerging designers and brands showcasing their Fall 2014 collections. Everyone will be looking for trends, creative genius, celebrity sightings, and just plain wow factors. However, an emerging trend that may not be a passing fad – the fusion of technology and fashion.
While fashion is fully conversant with all things digital (apps and social media, check), wearable technology may be the next fashion frontier. So far, wearable technology has meant form over fashion: enhanced athletic gear to track performance or the infamous Google Glass, an amazing technological feat but a fashion fail. Google Glass, chastened, is teaming up with hip eyeglass designer Warby Parker to step up their fashion game. Now, with Intel’s recent announcement of its collaboration with Opening Ceremony to produce a smart bracelet, which will be carried by Barney’s, wearable technology is getting a makeover. What does this mean for designers and retailers? Quite a bit, at least with respect to intellectual property.
While designers and retailers are familiar with trademark protection (and in specific cases, copyright protection) for their brands, patents have often played a quiet but equally important role in fashion, especially in fighting counterfeiters. Celine’s envelope bag is protected by a design patent, and Alexander Wang and DVF have obtained several design patents for their accessories. However, with wearable technology, such as the smart bracelet, patent rights take center stage.
A patent is a right granted to a patent holder by the government to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the patented invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States for a specific time period. Two types of patents are important: design and utility. While design patents have been the go to patent type for fashion companies, utility patents may become increasingly important. The key difference between these two patents: the design patent protects the way something looks while a utility patent protects the way something works.
What does this mean for fashion designers/retailers? If you are developing innovative technology that can be used as, or in, an accessory or apparel, you should consider obtaining a patent (most likely a utility patent) in that technology. Once you receive a patent, you could then either manufacture the “smart” accessory or apparel or license the technology to a third party to manufacture the “smart” accessory or apparel. In Intel’s case, they may have provided their technology to Opening Ceremony to create a smart bracelet. Intel could have a patent, or certainly would have applied for patent protection, in that technology. Intel then would probably have given Opening Ceremony a license to use that technology in a particular way, in this case, as a bracelet. If you are a designer interested in incorporating technology in your collections, you most probably will need a license to use that technology. Collaborations to create a new smart fashion item requires an even more careful analysis of intellectual property ownership and leverage. So, at least with wearable technology, patent rights, and licensing become important in generating revenue or raising capital. Fashion’s secret weapon, patents, can be used even more effectively.
Mary Katranzou and other talented designers are wowing audiences and customers worldwide with digital prints on clothing. Soon, it may be quite possible to make these prints do interesting things in the near future. Motion sensor on a digitally printed dress? Now that’s fashion for the 21st century.
Stay tuned for more Fashion and Technology posts!