In July 2014, fashion label Lulu Guinness plans to launch a limited edition range of bags in collaboration with the camera brand Autographer. For about £400 it will be possible to own a designer bag equipped with a five-megapixel camera that takes up to 2,000 photos a day, automatically, every time the camera recognises a change in conditions. The bag will also be capable of monitoring light, motion, location, colour and temperature. Sound a bit like Sci Fi fashion to you? It’s time to have a closer look at wearable technologies, the latest craze in the fashion industry.
Lulu Guinness’ integrated camera is just one example of how technology is sweeping the world of fashion. Recently, the fashion industry has seen a host of new and cutting-edge wearable technologies being released, including jackets equipped with solar panels to charge smartphones, clutches with integrated speakers and watches which monitor the wearer’s every movement. What sounds like a geeky fad might in fact revolutionise the fashion industry and lead to companies placing much more weight on utility, rather than focusing on mere aesthetics. Form follows function may become the mantra of the industry. Technology companies are also keen to cash in on the trend. With rumours about Apple launching its first iwatch by the end of this year, Burberry’s former CEO Angela Ahrendts recently being appointed to Head of Retail, and Saint Laurent’s former CEO Paul Deneve taken up the role of Vice President to oversee what Tim Cook calls ‘special projects’ at Apple, it looks like the fashion and technology industries are becoming closer than ever.
Protecting IP in this area is also a high priority for businesses, as the recent case of Adidas v. Under Armour shows. Back in February, German sportswear giant Adidas – a pioneer in the development of wearable technology – sued American company Under Armour for alleged patent infringement in the U.S. District Court. Adidas claims that the Under Armour39 range of watches, chest straps and technologies in its MapMyFitness tracker infringes 10 of its patents. Adidas argues that Under Armour impermissibly copied functions such as real-time workout analytics and automatic route mapping. The patented technology in question enables users to monitor their heart rates, calculate the number of calories burned and to collect other data via their smartphones. Adidas is no stranger to this kind of conflict, having itself been sued for alleged patent infringement of SportBrain’s 2008 patent covering the integration of a personal data-capturing functionality into a portable computing device and a wireless communication device. The rise of wearable technology and its increased economic importance means that increased patent litigation in this area looks inevitable.
In the coming years it will be interesting to see how fashion and technology companies manage these new challenges. Will they enter a series of Apple-Samsung-style patent wars in order to protect their turf? Or will they handle things differently and apply a more pragmatic approach by cross-licensing IP rights on wearable technologies? It will also be interesting to see how small and independent fashion and technology labels handle the situation. Obtaining costly legal advise and undertaking extensive freedom to operate searches, or even paying hefty royalitites for the use of third parties’ IP, will be a particular challenge for them.
Anna-Lena Laack is a German qualified lawyer and fashion lover. She recently graduated with an LL.M. in International Studies in Intellectual Property Law and is currently building her career here in London. We look forward to having more great guest posts from Anna-Lena!