Bow Ties and Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual Property law gets interesting when applied to fashion — watch Dr. Johanna Blakley’s TED talk below for further explanation.

Blakley explains that one simply cannot copyright or patent a fashion design. At least in the United States, fashion is considered too utilitarian for protection. Imagine if only one person owned the right to design and create shoes; that’s just as scary if that happened to bow ties — gasp!

That’s why trademark protection is important in the fashion industry. Ever wonder why luxury brands plaster their logos all over their products? I mean why do Coach, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton produce purses with their logos all over them? Well, one reason is because they cannot copyright nor patent the design of the purse. Thus, that means that anyone can copy them without much fear of legal ramifications. However, these fashion brands can sue other people over the use of their logos using Trademark protections.

So, whenever you see those knock off purses, glasses, etc., the counterfeiters are risking litigation due to infringing upon a brand’s logo — not an unauthorized use of their design.

You know what? Despite these restrictions placed upon the fashion industry, Blakley explains that fashion companies still rake in the dough. Go free culture! If you’re interested to go into even greater depths about IP law or might even want to protect something you’re making consider talking to experts similar to LegalVision.

How can we include bow ties in this discussion?


Silhouette of a Chippendale Dancer with a Bow Tie

This was a little bit of a stretch. I just really like Blakley’s TED talk and figured that this blog can have posts about general fashion from time to time. However, I did some digging, and it took male strippers (females are involved, too) to work this video in. *blush*

Back in 2010, University of Missouri Law Professor Dennis Crouch and IP lawyer Mark Malek of Zies Widerman & Malek both discussed how the Chippendales (you know… the male strippers) attempted to acquire an incontestable trademark for the “Cuffs & Collar” custom to ease their work in forthcoming trademark infringement action. The costume was awarded trademark protection (but not copyright) since the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO) ruled that it had achieved “acquired distinctiveness.” Whenever most of us see a bare chested (as in no shirt) man only wearing a white shirt collar, black bow tie, white shirt cuffs, and cuff links above the waist, we think of the Chippendales. When they tried to get incontestable trademark status, they failed as the USPTO’s Tradmark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled that the costume is not “inherently distinctive.” Interestingly, the TTAB felt that since the men frequently don other costumes (to appear as doctors, utility workers, cowboys, etc.) during their striptease and the fact that the “Cuffs & Collar” outfits are reminiscent of what Playboy Bunnies wear, their signature look doesn’t past muster for the additional trademark distinction.

I’m no legal eagle. So, if I’m not accurately explaining this, please chime in.

Johanna Blakley

Dr. Johanna Blakley is the managing director and director of research at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism’s Norman Lear Center. The Center focuses on the intersection of entertainment, commerce, and society.

Without further ado, here’s her April 2010 TEDxUSC talk “Lessons from fashion’s free culture:”

Since we’re discussing Intellectually Property… I gladly use a Creative Commons license for this blog; as of this posting, that’s indicated at the bottom of the right sidebar. I work hard to produce this blog. However, I understand the importance of the free flow of ideas. Thus, if you want to use my work, go ahead as long as you attribute what you use as coming for me. That way we both win.