Figure 1 from Lululemon’s waistband patent.
Lululemon is suing Calvin Klein over yoga pants — specifically, over a particular v-shaped waist band. While it’s arguable that the smaller, athletic wear-focused company is bringing litigation against Calvin Klein as a fairly savvy PR move, the lawsuit itself brings up a few interesting points regarding how patent law plays out in the fashion industry. While we know designers can be pretty inclined to sue one another, the fact that Lululemon has a patent on this design (not just a trademark) throws the suit into a different light.
The Vancouver Sun spoke to Susan Scafidi, Fordham University’s academic director at its Fashion Law Institute (that it exists goes to show the current demand for fashion and luxury lawyers). Scafidi pointed out that while trademarking in fashion is common — think Ralph Lauren’s iconic polo pony — actual patents are pretty rare. And here, designers might be the ones hurting themselves. While patenting certain technical designs would help them protect their work, the length of the patenting process is completely at odds with a normal fashion cycle — by the time the relevant patent is obtained, it’s on to the next look.
Thus, labels tend only to seek patents for design elements they repeat, like Lululemon and their signature waistband. The company has not one but three patents on the look, which is perennially in use in their designs. When it comes to thwarting copycats and stolen intellectual property, would it help fashion out if they slowed down and repeated styles? The industry has been seeking greater overall design ownership protections (which includes patent law) for a while — it’ll be interesting to see, if Lululemon wins its case, whether designers will take a cue and incorporate more repeat designs worth patenting.