Jean-Genious! Levi and Google develop jeans that text

Fashion and tech continue to merge in thrilling ways. One of the most exciting has been born out of a recent collaboration between Levi Strauss and Google.

Levi Strauss is not well-known for its tech ventures, yet there’s something about the partnership that makes perfect sense. What do the iconic denim brand and the tech super-power have in common? Simple – both brands have delivered undeniably iconic products and become global household names.

Project Jacquard aims to develop interactive fabrics that empower wearers to use their phone by simply tapping or swiping their clothes. Soon, silencing a call or sending a text message could be as easy as a shimmy or a shake!

Retro Orange Tab makes a come back this season

Retro Orange Tab makes a come back this season!

An opportunity to be present in the moment without the invasion of screens and technology is emerging and the simplicity of the production method makes it ever sweeter. How is this done? Via a standard loom, replacing the normal thread with a conductive yarn.

Such insight suggests Levi’s contribution is far more involved than may appear on the surface. The 1853 established company is the daddy of denim: it’s globally renown for its heritage Orange Tab flares to its 501 Originals! In line with this is Google’s reputation as our go-to search engine.

Levi’s presence will be a crucial factor in the credibility and design of the future product, a much-debated topic in the fash-tech sphere! Customers who might normally be put off by a function over style concept might be swung by a warranted trust in the Levi’s brand.

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Of course, this is just the beginning. With interactive fabric now developing into a relatively easy concept to pursue, partnerships such as Levi Strauss and Google could fuel many more similar collaborations. Might we be observing the birth of the ‘Super Jean’?

Louis Vuitton’s “Damier” in the Dog-House

Louis Vuitton has lost its Trade Mark protection for the famous chequered pattern, the Damier.

In addition to its “LV” monogram, the French fashion giant Louis Vuitton has been using the brown and beige check – known as the Damier Ebene – since 1888. It successfully registered a European-wide Community Trade Mark (“CTM”) in 1998, and for the cream and grey Damier Azur ten years later. However, Nanu Nana, an online gift item supplier, filed a legal claim to remove protection for these patterns in 2009.

The Damier Azur and Damier Ebene, side by side

The Damier Azur and Damier Ebene, side by side

Nanu Nana argued that Louis Vuitton could not legally protect the Damier pattern because it was:

  • descriptive;
  • devoid of distinctive character;
  • an established practice of trade; and
  • consisted exclusively of a shape giving substantial value to the goods themselves.

If a Trade Mark is found to be any of the above, it will be refused protection under the Community Trade Mark Regulations (Article 7). In eight of the 27 European Union countries, Louis Vuitton could not prove it had acquired distinctive use of the Damiers. In other words, it could not prove that the Damier was distinctive enough for people to automatically associate it with its origin, being the Louis Vuitton official brand. The Courts therefore cancelled the Trade Mark protection of both the Ebene and Azur Damiers.

After a few rounds of appeal by Louis Vuitton, it all boiled down to the decision of the General Court. The decision was handed down in April 2015 and said:

  • The marks lack inherent distinctive character. They are too basic, too common and have a long-standing link with leather goods for which they were registered.
  • The evidence provided by Louis Vuitton did not prove distinctive character throughout the European Union (in all 27 countries).
  • Photos of celebrities holding Louis Vuitton merchandise did not prove the brand had acquired a special or well-known distinctiveness through use.
Just because celebrities - like supermodel Miranda Kerr - use a particular product, doesn't mean that the design can be protected under law!

Just because celebrities – like supermodel Miranda Kerr – use a particular product, doesn’t mean that the design can be protected under law!

Without a protected Damier, Louis Vuitton will now have a harder time going after counterfeit products.

What could the brand have done differently?

Louis Vuitton’s crux has been lack evidence. Had the brand provided sufficient proof, showing acquired distinctiveness of the Damiers in every EU country, perhaps the Damiers would still be protected. Louis Vuitton now has the opportunity to appeal to the Court of Justice for the EU, which is a route the luxury designer brand will likely take to protect the patterns. Let’s watch this space!

What does this case teach us?

  • A mark must be distinctive throughout each and every one of the EU countries in order to be granted an EU-wide protection.
  • Even marks that have been used for over a century can be vulnerable to invalidity claims. The key to protection, as always, is evidence. If sales, PR and marketing data is maintained for all EU territories, distinctiveness and use are easier to prove.
  • Trade Mark erosion is when a trade marked name or pattern becomes generic (think “Hoover” or “Kleenex”). You can help prevent this with savvy marketing, to include identifying and adding a durable distinctive element to the core design. This will help to withstand opposition or cancellation proceedings from competitors.
  • Where a Trade Mark constitutes a valuable asset, businesses should always have a strategic approach to registering multiple marks in their core markets.

I’m setting up a fashion business: where do I start?

Establishing a fashion business can be electrifying and a roller-coaster journey. To avoid pitfalls, read on…

Think of an amazing brand name, and protect it!
A catchy brand name can make all the difference, as it’s the basis on which your business will be established and will flourish. It’s therefore crucial to first ensure your name is unique, and avoids confusion with other names already out there. Once you’re clear on this, get the brand name and any logo associated with it registered as trade marks. This will allow you to protect your brand from copycats, and safeguard the value of the goodwill you generate.

What can the quarters of a burgeoning fashion startup look like? This is the Everlane Studio in San Francisco

What can the quarters of a burgeoning fashion startup look like? This is the Everlane Studio in San Francisco

What legal structure is most suitable for you?
Three most common business structures are below:

Sole Trader: you run your business as an individual, retain all profits post tax and can employ staff. You are accountable for the business and personally responsible for any losses your business makes. For tax purposes, you are considered self-employed.
Partnership: responsibility is shared between you and your business partner (or partners). The profits of the business can be shared between all partners in the business. Each partner pays tax on their share of the profits.
Limited Liability Companies: a company is a separate legal entity owned by shareholders. The company is responsible in its own right for everything it does and its finances are completely separate from your personal finances. Any profit made by the company, after payment of corporation tax, can be distributed between the shareholders.

Have you thought about your location?
Some of the most famous start-ups have begun in a back bedroom, but as you expand you might need to relocate to an office or shop space. Space is often bought via leasehold, but don’t be too eager to sign without ensuring you fully understand and agree to the terms. A more cost effective strategy might be to trade over the web. If doing so, it’s a great idea to get expert advice on trading over the internet as there’s a whole host of complex laws and regulations surrounding this.

Make sure to do your homework before starting your fashion business, which includes having the correct contracts in place with partners or staff.

Make sure to do your homework before starting your fashion business, which includes having the correct contracts in place with partners &/or staff

Do you have the right agreements in place?
Before entering into a business relationship, you should ensure that you have all of the appropriate agreements in place. For instance, if negotiating with a third party – such as a supplier or developer – you should have signed a non-disclosure agreement to protect any confidential information you may exchange. Having the right contracts set out from the beginning is essential, particularly to avoid complexities in the event of a dispute!

For more information on setting up your business don’t hesitate to contact me.