The importance of design protection in the fashion world has been in the news a lot recently. As we mentioned, Christian Louboutin has been embroiled in a lengthy suit with other fashion brands over the color red. Now, a pair of yoga pants appears to have moved into the spotlight.
Yoga-apparel maker Lululemon Athletica is suing Calvin Klein Inc. for infringing on design patents for its popular $98 “Astro Pant.” The battle appears to be the latest attempt to stop copycat designs which can eat into or even eliminate the profit brands extract from popular lines of clothing.
Lululemon, in a complaint filed in federal court in Delaware last month, claims that Calvin Klein is selling pants that “have infringed and are still infringing” on three patents, including one for a distinctive waistband featuring overlapping panels of fabric. The company was awarded one of the patents last year, and the two others in June.
The frequently heard argument justifying the importance of such intellectual property suits is that it encourages innovation. Without IP, companies won’t spend time and money to come up with new ideas if they know their competitors can just steal them. Until recently though, the clothing industry has not followed this trend. They frequently copy designs and, historically, suits have been rare. Some have even said that this loose approach to IP protection has made the industry more creative than others.
As we mentioned earlier, this trend appears to be changing. Some of the big wigs in the industry have pushed Congress for more IP protection, backing bills that would make it easier for clothing companies to sue each other for infringement. The recent suit by Lululemon is yet another example of the increasingly litigious posture of major clothing companies concerned with maintaining their dominance.
Some industry veterans fear that the rush of recent suits could hamper the creativity of the industry, not bolster it. They point to what’s happened in the high-tech world, where some of the most innovative companies now spend billions buying up useless patents in an attempt to stockpile ammunition against rivals. Many software engineers believe the patent system hinders innovation and clothing designers hope fashion isn’t the next industry to enter a brutal patent war.
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