Clothes doubling up as smart phones are not too far away. The existing wearable technology market is dominated by a small number of devices: smart glasses, watches and fitness bands, which for example interact with smartphones and tablets via apps. It is estimated that in 2014 this market has generated more than US$ 3 billion worldwide.
Tech firms have recently formed partnerships and collaborations with “design functional” fashion brands or have employed senior executives from the fashion industry: Google’s partnership with Ray Ban and Oakley, Apple’s work with the Nike+ (and the recruitment of fashion gurus from Yves Saint Laurent and Burberrys). This is an established trend which sees players busy to race towards new platforms and devices. All of this creates new challenges for IP lawyers who are constantly forced to think outside the usual known boundaries of IP rights.
Branding in a virtual environment and enforcing trademarks in domain name systems will expand the scope for trademarks. Patents (albeit poorer in quality) will see an increased number of applications to compensate for the uncertainty and weakness of unregistered and virtual designs. Copyright will become very difficult to monitor as everybody will be able to record anything at any time through garments and the traditional exemption of fair use and fair dealing will widen its scope. The internet of things, as we are already seeing these days, creates issues of privacy and ownership of data. Will copyright stretch to become a right capable of covering “life data”?
The good news is that there is plenty of room for creative IP “lawyering”.
Britain – and London especially – has long been seen as a trendsetter in smart clothing. But Rosella said that only now is their brand detecting a significant shift in interest from the fashion industry. “It’s buzz, buzz, buzz. Now everybody wants a slice of the cake,” she said. CuteCircuit is in the process of agreeing collaboration with a “big brand” fashion name, though she wouldn’t say who. One big brand name that’s keen to talk about wearables is Ralph Lauren. Famous for its preppy nautical stripes and chinos, it is the first major luxury fashion house to think wearable. Its salvo, a sports shirt that monitors heartbeat, respiration and stress levels, is about to hit the shops on both sides of the Atlantic.