Hey! Hands Off My IP! (Patents)

Have you designed the next influential thing in fashion? You might want to patent it…

Patents can be used to protect inventions. With wearable technology on the rise, patenting enables inventors to stop third parties from using their invention without permission.

Fashion bubbles New York

Wearables, like those displayed in the Fashion Bubbles exhibit in New York, are becoming ever increasingly popular, leading to a rise in patent applications!

“Perfect solution” you say? Hold your horses, there are strict requirements on what you can and can’t patent and this post will take you through those hurdles. Also, applying for a patent can be time-consuming and expensive. Doesn’t sound too appealing does it? Well the good news is that the benefits can outweigh the negatives, which this post seeks to explore…

Jump those hurdles

Patents are only available if you have invented a new product or method for doing things. In the fashion industry, this may be a design feature of the garment or a technical feature, such as drag resistance technology, for example.

Patent plate from 1879

Patents are a long established form of intellectual property protection…check out this patent plate from 1879 – retro!

One of the earliest examples of patenting in fashion technology is by Danish company Novozymes which revolutionised the traditional use of stones to create stone-washed denim effect by utilising enzymes and microorganisms to create the exact same effect on jeans. Other examples of patenting being used to protect fashion inventions include products such as Speedo’s FASTSKIN FSII swimsuit fabric and Geox’s footwear technology.

The invention itself must be new, inventive and be capable of manufacture, but what does this mean?

  • New? There must be no public disclosure prior to putting through a patent application. Fashion tech company XO once deliberately designed wristbands that detect user’s emotions to not work outside the auditorium they were in. This prevented the product from becoming accessible to the public in any way, which would have affected their patent application.
  • Inventive? The invention must not be obvious to another person skilled in fashion design.
  • Commercialisation? The product should have the ability to be made in any kind of industry.
Brand new

Gotta be brand new baby!

This means that aesthetic creations, designs or logos, such as the iconic Louis Vuitton symbol, cannot be patented. Instead, a trade mark application could be pursued. For more info on trade marks, see my post on trade marks in the “Hey Hands off my IP!” series here.

Another often over-looked point is that it’s not usually possible to patent software. Software is protected by copyright in the UK. Here’s some more information on copyright from the series.

Sounds great – my invention fits the bill! How do I register a patent?

This is where the fun begins! Unlike copyright, patents need to be registered. Applications have to be made to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the territory or territories in which you want patent protection (usually wherever you are trading) and will require the following details, among others:

  1. a written description of the invention;
  2. drawings;
  3. claims that precisely set out the distinctive technical features of your invention; and
  4. an abstract that explains all of the important technical aspects of your invention.
A lot of 500 to 700 nm of exquisite light strewn across a pixelated matrix in linear crisscrossing fashion for your optical eye's delight and your mind's eye's respite

Fash tech’s 700m of exquisite light sewn into fabric for the eye’s delight!

Once the application has been processed, the IPO compiles a search report to investigate and assess if the invention is new and inventive, which can take up to 6 months! If all of the formal requirements are met, the application will be published approximately 18 months after filing.

Unfortunately it doesn’t end there…

Patent pending

It’s a long old process, so be prepared to wait!

Within 6 months of publication, more forms will need to be submitted along with an additional fee requesting a substantial examination for any changes required and this is reported back. If all of the application requirements met, the IPO will then grant your patent, publish your final application form and send you a certificate. Hurrah!

How long does a patent last for?

Patents can be granted for up to 20 years, but have to be renewed regularly during the 20 years, incurring a further fee! The first renewal is due 4 years after the date the patent was filed, and then annually. However, as always, there is a price to pay. This ranges from £70 for the first renewal to £600 for the 20th year!!

Wow, that sounds like a lot of effort – why bother with all this hassle?

Although the process to obtain and maintain a patent is long and expensive, with the right product, it is a great tool and can provide many benefits to those looking to generate a long-term investment return.

INTIMACY is a fashion project exploring the relation between intimacy and technology

INTIMACY is a fashion project exploring the relation between intimacy and technology. These Smart fabrics turn transparent when worn in close proximity to another person  resulting in feelings of an intimate nature! Yikes!!

In a fast-changing industry such as fashion where trends change season-by-season, it may not always be appropriate to register a patent and another form of IP protection may be better. However, with more and more start-ups looking to combine fashion and wearable technology, patenting could be very beneficial as this industry increasingly becomes mainstream, especially to prospective businesses or investors.

Patenting an invention gives you a monopoly right over your product. The mere existence of a patent application can also deter rival businesses from patenting a similar piece of technology.

Got my patent, now what?

It is your responsibility to police any unauthorised third-party use of the invention where they have manufactured, sold or imported it, not the IPO’s. It may be advisable to set up a watching service so you can keep an eye on any newly filed patent applications within the area of your invention.

Patented 1923

Keep a watch out for any potential infringements of your patent – it’s your responsibility, not the IPO’s!

A notable example of patent infringement in the fashion industry was when global retailer H&M infringed the ‘coveted bra technology’ of UK manufacturer Stretchline Holdings in a multi-million pound dispute. H&M sold bras using Fortitube technology without obtaining a licence from Stretchline Holdings. Tut tut!!

This goes to show the importance of having clearance searches carried out before applying to register a patent and also monitoring any future patents – not doing so could lead to a legal nightmare, which no one wants!

3D printing by Novabeans India 2

3D printing is also on the rise in the fashion industry – yet another form of fash tech!

Top Tips before applying for a patent?

Research, research, research – if the invention is not novel, inventive or capable of being manufactured, then the patent application will fail and your money will be wasted. Research online and through the IPO’s published patents catalogue to ensure there is nothing similar within your industry. This will not only help to ensure your invention is new, but will also ensure you don’t infringe anyone else’s patent rights.

Keep it a secret – confidentiality is crucial if a patent application is being considered. If your invention has been made accessible to the public in any way, this could seriously sabotage your application.

Secret

Ssshhh! It’s a secret – don’t spill the beans to avoid having your patent application declared invalid!

Be prepared for commitment – once your invention has been patented, it is important to analyse whether renewals are necessary and to monitor potential developments or inventions within your industry.

For more information on patents, feel free to contact me!

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Hey! Hands off my IP! (Copyright)

As promised, FTL is continuing with the “Hey! Hands off my IP!” series of blog posts. The first post in the series was on trade marks, you can access it here. Next we take a look at copyright.

It’s a common error to mistake copyright as a registerable right and get it confused with a trade mark. This piece aims to demystify the differences, provide greater clarity on copyright and explain why it’s a useful tool for those in the fashion/fash tech industries.

 

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Protect your designs and avoid copyright infringement by reading on…

What’s copyright?

Contrary to some general public perception, copyright cannot be legally registered in the UK, which is one of the key differences often confused with a trade mark.

Recently when listening to the radio (yes I’m a retro gal!), I heard numerous presenters assuming that certain objects, lyrics and recipes need to be registered to attain copyright. WRRRRONG!! This really infuriates me…

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Glued to my radio!

Copyright automatically arises on the creation of a Work. An idea alone cannot generate protection, the idea must be Recorded to become protectable under copyright. The Work must also be Original.

What does it mean to be a Work, Recorded and Original?

A Work: to be classified as a Work, the piece must fall within one of the following categories (for the legislation buffs out there, the relevant statute is here):

• a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work;
• a sound recording, film or broadcast; or
• the typographical arrangement of a published edition.

For those in the fashion industry, this could include sketches of new clothing, handbag designs, shoe drawings, photographs of mock-ups or photos of the final product for example. However the garments themselves would not generally be protected by copyright, as it would be hard to drop them into one of the above categories.

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Copyright would exist in these very designs!

It’s worth noting that in other countries, garments can be protected by copyright due to their more openly drafted laws on copyright. This is the case in France, Germany and the US and was how Bijules could register its nail ring for copyright protection in the US.

Fixation: A further hurdle to leap before copyright protection applies is that the Work must be fixed. This means the literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, for example, must be put “in writing or otherwise” (section 3(2), Copyright designs and Patents Act 1988, or CDPA for short!).

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“Record” everything to achieve fixation!

Originality: Finally, the work must be Original! It’s no good copying someone else’s work and then claiming copyright in it – that won’t work!!

Interestingly, it’s not necessary for the whole piece to be original for copyright to exist. Generally, the level of originality required in the UK is low; for example, copyright in calendars and competition cards have been accepted in the UK.

For fashion photographers, originality of photographs has raised questions, but European law states that:

“Photographs which are original in the sense that they are the author’s own intellectual creation shall be protected… “

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Photographs are able to achieve copyright protection. Follow the steps outlined above to ensure they’re safe!

Who owns copyright?

Normally the owner of copyright within a Work will be the creator. However Works created in the course of employment by an employee will usually be owned by the employer, due to express terms in the employee’s contract.

Also, where a piece is commissioned, let’s say Vogue UK commissioned the famous milliner Philip Treacy to create an exclusive design as part of the 2016 100th year anniversary, it’s unlikely that Vogue would fail to formally contract with Treacy to secure Vogue’s ownership of any copyright in the design. So here, the commissioning party will typically own the copyright.

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Philip Treacy’s amazing creation for the late Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2008 collection. Wonder if Treacy was commissioned by McQueen and if so, who owned the copyright!?

How long does copyright last for?

Copyright exists from the moment a work has been created. The duration of this depends on the type of work created, by way of example, an artistic work affords protection for 70 years from the death of the author/creator.

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Vogue is celebrating its 100th year this year! Continuing the theme, copyright even exists in these vintage Vogue covers dating all the way back to 1916, provided the date of the author’s death was not before 1946 of course!

What rights does copyright give the owner?

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to do the following with the Work:

• copy it;
• issue copies to others;
• rent it out;
• perform, show or play it in public;
• communicate it to the public; and
• make an adaptation.

Are any rights reserved for a creator who may no longer own the Work?

The author automatically acquires a number of moral rights in relation to their Work including rights:

• to be identified as the author;
• to object to derogatory treatment of the Work; and
• not to have a Work falsely attributed to him or her.

What happens when someone breaches copyright?

Copyright is infringed if, without the permission of the owner, someone does, or authorises another to do, any of the acts that are exclusive to the copyright owner as outlined above.

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Universal sign for copyright. Stamp on all of your works capable of copyright protection to warn off any copyright thieves!

This can apply to the whole of the Work or only part of it and relates to direct or indirect infringement.

Round up

Being an automatic right, and not one that can be legally registered in the UK, copyright can often be difficult to prove. For example, a startup fashion business may create a wonderful design, which is then totally ripped off by large corporate retailer. The startup may not have filed evidence of its creation, which would prove originality prior to the date the corporate giant made a copy. The startup would therefore find it difficult to its ownership of the Work.

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Although your studio may only have humble beginnings, be sure to record your original works to benefit from copyright protection!

What can be done?

A way around this is to record and keep dated copies of your file drawings, plans and photographs. This will then go some way to prove you are the owner and that the Work does not belong to those trying to steal your work!

Copyright can be mind-boggling and legal advice often needs to be tailored on a case by case basis. If you’ve hit a copyright wall and don’t know where to turn, contact FTL via the contact me page.

Until next time…

Data Protection – Considerations for Online Brands

The popularity of shopping online has undoubtedly made buying your favourite shoes or handbag even easier, but the ever-growing list of considerations for brands has only gotten longer! One of the main headaches is data protection.

For brands with an online presence already, or those just starting out online, a key consideration should be keeping your customers’ data safe.

Shops

Could online shopping be the end of the traditional experience?

What do I need to know?

In the UK, the Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA) contains certain obligations that anyone processing personal data must comply with. On your website, personal data will be things like your customer’s name, date of birth, address and so on. As the owner of a brand operating online, you may be considered the data controller under the DPA, and therefore the one responsible for protecting the data!

Padlock 2

Always know whether you are responsible for keeping data secure!

One of your top priorities, regardless of whether you are a data controller or data processor, should be ensuring you have privacy and cookie policies displayed clearly on your site.

What’s a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy simply sets out what you will do with the customer data you have collected. Before gathering data, you should make customers aware of why you need this. A wise move would be to ensure you have a privacy policy clearly visible on your website, explaining to customers what data you are collecting and why.

Data should only be collected for a lawful purpose (so for the processing of those new orders flowing in!) and you should make sure you tell customers when you make any changes to why you are collecting the data.

Shopping cart area

Don’t forget to let your customers know why you are collecting their data, as well as saying “thank you” for the purchase!

You always need to ensure you collect the data securely too, and don’t keep this for longer than needed.

If you send or plan on sending marketing emails (those wonderful discount emails), you should mention this in your policy.

What’s a Cookies Policy?

Cookies are text files implanted onto customers’ hard drives, which enable you to collect information about the person such as their name, address and user preferences. You can then tailor and personalise their shopping experience, and remove annoying tasks such as requiring a customer to re-enter their details before they can shop again. That way they can shop hassle free and even faster!

Cookies

We love cookies!

Cookies can therefore be a really valuable way of finding out about your customers, and encouraging them to return to spend more! You must however make sure you get consent from your customers for the use of cookies, and so a clear cookies policy on your website is a must. This needs to explain why you are using cookies and note that customers always have to opt-in.

Don’t forget about your employees!

You should also remember that data protection applies to employees too! To help guide us through the key data protection considerations for employers and employees, I have asked Razia Begum (our super Senior Associate, specialising in employment law, at Taylor Vinters) to answer some questions that commonly crop up.

An interesting fact about Razia is that not only is she a fantastic employment lawyer, but she also completed a course in fashion design and marketing at prestigious fashion college, Central St Martins – who could therefore be better placed to talk about this?!

Razia-Begum

Introducing Razia Begum, Employment Law Extraordinaire!

FTL: So Razia, what are the main risks we should be aware of?

Razia: In this day and age data is increasingly centralised and managed digitally. Staff data (including financial and sensitive personal data), which is often not adequately protected by employers, may be more susceptible to falling into the wrong hands and being distributed for the wrong reasons.

Employers have a positive obligation to look after employees’ data and a data breach could prove costly. It may also lead to considerable reputational damage and embarrassment for the company.

If a breach does occur employees may also be able to bring claims such as breach of privacy, confidentiality and data protection law. The success of claims such as these relies largely on the degree of financial loss suffered by an employee as a result of the breach.

FTL: What should employers do?

Razia: They should set up effective data protection and fraud prevention (in relation to confidential data as well as revenue) policies, which are implemented and enforced as required. The processes and procedures within such policies should also tie into the organisation’s HR policies and provide for regular awareness training, for example, the key dos and don’ts of compliant big data usage.

Padlock 1

Employee data security is key!

Companies should also ensure they have appropriate policies in place in respect of “bring your own devices” (or BYOD) and remote working if applicable, as both of these can significantly increase the chances of a data breach.

FTL: Thanks Razia, for the stellar input! Lots to consider when looking after your employees’ data.

FTL Round-up

Although the focus should be on prevention rather than cure, in a digital world where online shopping is the norm, breaches are unfortunately almost inevitable, however big or small. Brands should also therefore have robust emergency response plans in place ready for execution should a data breach occur.

Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street

Online shopping is great, but you can’t beat the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street – or maybe that’s just me!

Data protection can be a mind-boggling subject and this post only highlights a few key taster points! So for more information on data protection feel free to get in touch via the contact me page.

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.