Historically speaking, we do not see a large number of intellectual property lawsuits involving fashion designers. Everyone in Denver and around the world knows that designers copy each other's creations daily, but there is a new trend in the fashion industry where designers are obtaining patents on their designs and then choosing to enforce those patents when they feel another company or designer is infringing on their patent rights. Such is the case with a yoga-apparel company called Lululemon Athletica Inc., which is accusing Calvin Klein Inc. in a lawsuit of infringing on some of its design patents pertaining to its popular "Astro Pant" yoga pants that retail for $98.
The complaint, filed in federal court, accuses Calvin Klein Inc. of having infringed on and is still infringing on three of its design patents by continuing to sell similarly designed yoga pants. One patent in particular deals with a special waistband with fabric panels that overlap. One of the three patents in question was awarded last year and the other two were awarded in June of this year. One might think a lawsuit over a $98 pair of pants could appear litigious, but in the wake of the 'patent war' now taking hold of the cellular phone industry, it's actually a pretty big deal.
Intellectual property law in essence encourages innovation by allowing others to build upon the innovations of others. If a company is not allowed to patent its innovations which in turn would allow others to steal its ideas, than there is simply no incentive to innovate. Patent infringement lawsuits in the fashion industry are quite rare, but that is beginning to change as more and more major players in the fashion world are seeking better protections for their intellectual property. After all, how is designing a circuit board or software any different than designing a pair of jeans or yoga pants?
There is currently a bill in congress backed by some fashion industry giants that is seeking to make it easier for fashion designers and manufacturers to sue each other for patent infringement. This latest lawsuit filed by Lululemon Athletica is just another step towards fashion innovators protecting their designs. Some argue that more stringent IP laws might hinder innovation similar to the way the patent wars has affected the innovation in the high-tech world of cellular phones. Like the age old question - which came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer to which we may never know.
Source: NPR, "Can You Patent Yoga Pants?," Jacob Goldstein, Sept. 12, 2012
Our law firm handles a wide range of business law issues from business formation and plans to litigation, including intellectual property and trademark infringement issues, similar to what we discussed in today's post.