Although it may seem trivial, a case making its way through a Delaware court regarding patents on a set of yoga pants may have a lasting impact on the fashion industry.
The yoga apparel company Lululemon is charging that Calvin Klein has infringed on three patents for its $98 "Astro Pant." According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the patents is for "a distinctive waistband featuring overlapping panels of fabric."
Lululemon's claim could set a fashion precedent. While companies have historically been able to patent logos and trademarks, patents are much more difficult to obtain on fundamental articles of clothing, like the length of a jacket.
Ashby Jones writes in the Wall Street Journal that Lululemon's case could have a significant impact on the future of fashion patents:
"Generally speaking, copyright law protects forms of art, but not items that are predominantly functional, like shirts and pants. Recent congressional bills that would grant greater copyright protection to clothing designs have failed to advance. Lululemon is trying to chart a new path by filing and litigating patents secured on the basis of its designs."
Fashion has been one of the most loosely-protected industries when it comes to patents. Proponents of Lululemon's complaint argue that granting more patents would better protect the articles of clothing and encourage more creativity. In the current market, designers are relatively free to borrow styles from their competitors. This process can discourage innovation among clothing companies.
There's a similar struggle emerging in the technology world between Apple and some of its competitors over the design of a few features on its products. Apple recently won a lawsuit over certain designs that it claimed its rival Samsung had stolen.