More Research Shows How The Fashion Industry Is Helped By The Lack Of Intellectual Property Rights

from the keep-it-coming dept

Back in 2003, we mentioned an article that compared the entertainment industry to the fashion industry, noting that even though there was no intellectual property protections over clothing design and copying was rampant, the fashion industry was thriving. This shouldn't come as a surprise, really. After all, without the artificial protectionism, the fashion designers are forced to continually compete by continually innovating and always trying to come out with the latest and greatest design. Even though others copy, there's tremendous value in being the first, or being the "big name" in the industry. The article included this fantastic quote: "Ideas arise, evolve through collaboration, gain currency through exposure, mutate in new directions, and diffuse through imitation. The constant borrowing, repurposing, and transformation of prior work are as integral to creativity in music and film as they are to fashion." In 2005, the NY Times wrote a similar article, but warned that the fashion industry was moving in the wrong direction, as lazy designers who didn't want to compete and wanted to rest on their laurels had started pushing for new intellectual property over their designs. Late last year, the calls for such protectionism grew even stronger -- though, the reasoning doesn't make any sense. The entire point of intellectual property protections is to create incentives for a market. If that market is already thriving, why do you need to add new incentives? The real reason is that it's not to provide incentives. It's a way for successful players to keep making money without continuing to innovate -- which is simply bad for society.

The NY Times is taking another look at this issue, this time in a piece written by well-known economist Hal Varian, who points to a recent study that doesn't just note that the fashion industry has thrived without intellectual property protection, but notes that a big part of the reason it has thrived is because of the lack of IP. In other words, if those pushing for those new IP rights get them, the end result will likely be harmful to the overall fashion industry. Again, this shouldn't be surprising, as removing protectionist policies tends to increase competition and the size of the addressable market, but it's certainly a good example to point to when people insist that things like the music industry wouldn't exist without copyright protection.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    MadJo (profile), Apr 10th, 2007 @ 1:53am

    Care for a genuine Louis Vultton bag? :)

    I can hear the Sony/Viacom/Disney/Paramount/Universal/21st century execs shout: "Bu... but... but... piracy!"

     

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  2.  
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    Urban, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 3:17am

    Piracy

    Piracy exists everywhere ;)

     

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  3.  
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    squik, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 4:57am

    Clothing is qualitatively different

    I've no problem with a designer patenting something that is new or a new process. There is precedent for it: zippers of various design, velcro, sansabelt waist band, dacron, wrinkle-resistance, scotchguard, etc.

    Sportwear manufacturers regularly patent their designs. Nike has 2157 patents and not just design patents. But, they use design patents to establish unique designs that act as trademarks. I've never heard of Adidas, Reebok, or anyone else complaining of being unable to innovate because Nike did something new and patented it.

    The fashion industry may thrive on induced obsolescence and copying. But the clothing industry is happily using patents all over the place. Which kind of diminishes the impact of the IP-less fashion industry.

     

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  4.  
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    Wolfger, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 5:01am

    Piracy!

     

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  5.  
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    Matt, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 5:16am

    Development Costs

    I definitely agree with the post's assesment but I do think ya'll conveniently ignore the cost it takes to develop new products for most of the entertainment industry. At this point bringing a new pair of shoes to market for Nike is cheap (marketing aside) yet for the software and movie industry there is a significant amount of investment involved. Knocking off a design takes some cloth and thread, knocking off a movie (aside from a direct copy) takes ton of effort and money.

     

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  6.  
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    Vincent Clement, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 5:59am

    Re: Development Costs

    I think Nike would argue otherwise about the cost of bringing a new pair of shoes to market. Besides, you are comparing apples with oranges. Design patents are different from copyrights. Nike does not enjoy 100+ years of protection on their design patents.

     

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  7.  
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    RandomThoughts, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 6:19am

    So you don't think the fashion industry works to stop counterfeiting? There is a difference between copyright and IP. I know this topic is popular here, but at least be fair. This is actually intellectually dishonest, and you know it. I guess the eyeballs are worth it though.

     

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  8.  
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    Sanguine Dream, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 6:27am

    Damn...

    I don't know about you folks but all this talk of IP, copyright, trademark, and patent has me so confused that its near impossible to tell which is which.

     

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  9.  
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    Thomason, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 6:36am

    No comparison

    What is the lifespan of a Spring dress design - 3 months? One reason it's called "fashion" is that it come in and goes out of fashion. That short lifecycle compares in no real way to a musical composition or a movie, or an invention, which can remain popular for years, or forever.
    There's little reason to apply for a design patent or a copyright on a dress design that'll be sold out and gone before you get back the acknowledgement from the patent or copyright offices.
    To take the fashion industry as a model for innovative industries is to grasp at surficial logic and unprovable analogy.

     

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  10.  
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    UniBoy, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 6:58am

    Counterfeiting

    I don't think this is a discussion about counterfeit merchandise. Putting someone else's trademark name on a copycat piece of merchandise is clearly illegal. It robs both the consumer and the trademark holder.

     

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  11.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 7:01am

    Re: No comparison

    What is the lifespan of a Spring dress design - 3 months? One reason it's called "fashion" is that it come in and goes out of fashion

    Unlike the music industry where a song remains in the top ten forever and continues to sell the same number of units for years?

    Or would that be the music industry where a song gets popular and sells well then tails off after a period of initial interest, only in some instances to have a revival years later

    Of course some songs stay popular for years, but they still don't usually sell in anywhere near the volume of the initial period again unless they are revamped

    Nope on the whole I think its a very fair comparisson - in clothing this is called 'fashion', in music it is called 'pop' (but yes this applies in equal truth to indie, rock etc etc)

    There are exceptions to the above in music, but I am pretty sure you could find an equal number of exceptions in fashion

     

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  12.  
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    comboman, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 7:38am

    Copyright != IP

    I agree with most of the article, but as others have pointed out, the fashion industry DOES have IP, it just doesn't have copyrights on designs (nor should it). Brand names and logos (like Nike's "swoosh") have trademark protection (fair enough). Technical design elements can have patent protection (also fair, assuming they are legitimately new inventions and not obvious or prior-art patents intended to stifle competition). The artistic portion of the designs however are not covered by copyright protection, which seems to be what some in the industry are pushing for.

     

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  13.  
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    Beefcake, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 9:27am

    I wonder

    who owns the patent on the manufacturing process whereby you get some third world kids to stitch shoes for a dime a day?

     

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  14.  
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    Mike (profile), Apr 10th, 2007 @ 11:47am

    Re: Clothing is qualitatively different

    Clothing is qualitatively different

    Why?

    The fashion industry may thrive on induced obsolescence and copying. But the clothing industry is happily using patents all over the place. Which kind of diminishes the impact of the IP-less fashion industry.

    Squik, you need to work on your debate skills. The presences of patents in the industry doesn't change the core of the research -- that *fashion design* does not rely on IP protection, and actually thrives in large part due to the lack of it.

    Your responses on these issues are really confusing. You seem to assume some weird correlation: if patents and innovation, then patents must have been useful in driving innovation. You do realize that the two things are entirely separate, right?

    The focus of the research here was on innovation in fashion design that uses no IP protection and has thrived because of it. Your response was to talk about something entirely different and then insist that proves the original point wrong.

     

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  15.  
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    rommel, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    i was wondering if this article took into consideration that LVMH, the parent company of many fashion labels including Luis Vuitton, is very draconian when it comes to the color and style of their products. especially the logo patterned on their bags.

     

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  16.  
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    Jon Robinson, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 1:18pm

    Re:

    There is no difference between copyright and IP. IP doesn't even exist really. When people say IP they are referring to either copyright, trademarks, or patents, which are three entirely different things.

     

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  17.  
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    Ajit Patel, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 1:52pm

    IP for Fashion Industry

    I wholeheartedly agree that IP protection will be the nail in the coffin of the Fashion Industry's success. The prices will skyrocket and the consummer will suffer, both, from lack of innovation and higher prices for stale merchandise.

     

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  18.  
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    squik, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Clothing is qualitatively different

    Why?

    Clothing as opposed to the "fashion industry". The "fashion industry", by definition, creates short-lived trends in style and color in the clothing industry. Meanwhile, clothing industry regularly seeks both design and utility patents to protect both style, design, and technological innovations. It is the difference between the sizzle and the steak.

    The "fashion industry" is a small part of the clothing industry. By its very nature creates designs that last a season and must be change. By definition, the "fashion industry" creates nothing of enduring value. Patent protection makes no sense because the industry is constantly forcing obsolescence on its product.

    Now, design is different from the "fashion industry". There are companies working in the apparel business who use design (and utility) patents to protect styles and designs that they intend to have enduring value. Sportwear manufacturers, who create functional clothing and often want distinctive designs, to associate with a particular technology or brand image. Luxury brands and top designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, etc. also file design and utility patents to protect distinctive designs in clothing, jewelry, accessories, perfume, etc. They invest more money in these innovations than the designer who decides "This year, it's floral prints!"

    So, you've concentrated on one small area. Made some assertions that aren't entirely true, since top designers do use patents to protect their enduring design elements. But made the case that in a segment of an industry that thrives on induced obsolescence and copying, patents haven't had an impact. Wow.

    The "fashion industry" is hardly a good analogy for any technology fields. Especially when the industries upon which the "fashion industry" rests is busy patenting both designs and technologies that have enduring value.

     

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  19.  
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    squik, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Clothing is qualitatively different

    Why?

    Clothing as opposed to the "fashion industry". The "fashion industry", by definition, creates short-lived trends in style and color in the clothing industry. Meanwhile, clothing industry regularly seeks both design and utility patents to protect both style, design, and technological innovations. It is the difference between the sizzle and the steak.

    The "fashion industry" is a small part of the clothing industry. By its very nature creates designs that last a season and must be change. By definition, the "fashion industry" creates nothing of enduring value. Patent protection makes no sense because the industry is constantly forcing obsolescence on its product.

    Now, design is different from the "fashion industry". There are companies working in the apparel business who use design (and utility) patents to protect styles and designs that they intend to have enduring value. Sportwear manufacturers, who create functional clothing and often want distinctive designs, to associate with a particular technology or brand image. Luxury brands and top designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, etc. also file design and utility patents to protect distinctive designs in clothing, jewelry, accessories, perfume, etc. They invest more money in these innovations than the designer who decides "This year, it's floral prints!"

    So, you've concentrated on one small area. Made some assertions that aren't entirely true, since top designers do use patents to protect their enduring design elements. But made the case that in a segment of an industry that thrives on induced obsolescence and copying, patents haven't had an impact. Wow.

    The "fashion industry" is hardly a good analogy for any technology fields. Especially when the industries upon which the "fashion industry" rests is busy patenting both designs and technologies that have enduring value.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Mike (profile), Apr 10th, 2007 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Clothing is qualitatively different

    Patent protection makes no sense because the industry is constantly forcing obsolescence on its product.

    I think (once again) you seem to be confusing cause and effect here. The reason for the obsolescence is that they can't build up monopolies that allow them to protect a specific design. THAT is why they keep innovating and keep designing new designs.

    There's no reason the same wouldn't be true for other areas that are currently protected by IP.

     

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  21.  
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    a, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 4:24pm

    what the hell does a bunch of technology geeks know about the fashion industry. Everyone is talking out of their asses

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 5:28pm

    Re:

    Everyone is talking out of their asses
    Pot, meet Kettle.

     

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  23.  
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    RandomThoughts, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 5:48pm

    "The reason for the obsolescence is that they can't build up monopolies that allow them to protect a specific design."

    Mike, what makes you think that they want to build up monopolies around a specific design? Fact is, they don't, they want their outfits becoming outdated or in the technology world, obsolete.

    You feel like having to buy a new phone system every year or not being able to dial from a white phone after labor day?

     

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  24.  
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    Dan, Apr 10th, 2007 @ 9:52pm

    Bad analogy

    You guys are usually spot-on, but the analogy is bad here. Squik nailed a lot of the reasons the comparison are wrong on the IP end, but the analogy itself is also flawed. "Knock-off artists" in the fashion industry are not the equivalent of "pirates" in the Entertainment industry. The musical equivalent, if one exists, of "fashion knock-offs" would be "tribute/cover bands." If there were an equivalent to "pirates" in the fashion industry, it would be those who copy the designs and the designer's trademark to make a "true copy." Those folks are ones that the fashion industry fight tooth and nail. And even then the analogy is flawed because it's not the customers making exact copies of a Donna Karan dress for free with no effort...

    Talk about the fashion industry and how they've dealt with IP, but don't use it to draw bad analogies with the entertainment industry. There is plenty of ammo to use against the RIAA's and MPAA's claims, you don't need to stretch. I support much of what you say, which is why I bother to call you out on this rare occasion when you "swing and miss."

     

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  25.  
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    Mike (profile), Apr 11th, 2007 @ 2:32am

    Re:

    Mike, what makes you think that they want to build up monopolies around a specific design? Fact is, they don't, they want their outfits becoming outdated or in the technology world, obsolete.

    Actually, that's not true at all. Look at the post we had last year about the designers pushing for special new IP for clothing design. Those folks made it clear that they absolutely want special monopolies around specific designs, and they want their designs to last on the market much longer so they can milk them for much more.

    The whole pace of fashion is a result of the lack of IP protection in the field. That's how the industry dealt with it. Don't confuse cause and effect here...

     

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  26.  
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    Mike (profile), Apr 11th, 2007 @ 2:38am

    Re: Bad analogy

    The musical equivalent, if one exists, of "fashion knock-offs" would be "tribute/cover bands."

    That's not quite accurate. It is accurate for the big name designers, but go back and read some of the earlier posts, and it's the small time designers that are most likely to complain -- and in that case the "knockoffs" are basically identical.

    And even then the analogy is flawed because it's not the customers making exact copies of a Donna Karan dress for free with no effort...

    Ah, but don't get confused by what's happening in the entertainment industry. Even though there it appears that the customers are making the "copies" it's really the competition. That's because the industry is really in the distribution business, and all unauthorized file sharing does is create a competitive distribution system. So it's actually a lot more similar than you make it out to be.

    However, the key point remains, squik's non-sequitors notwithstanding: the claims of those who support IP regimes always fall back on the idea that without such IP regimes you couldn't have innovation because no one would invest. In fact, Squik himself has made effectively that argument by claiming the prudent company won't invest in new works if they can be easily copied.

    Yet here's a perfect example of why that's not the case at all. What happens is that, rather than relying on IP protection, the producers in that field adapt and come up with a new (and some would say, better) business model of continuous innovation.

    That applies equally to the entertainment industry or industries that rely on patents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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