Why Computer Companies Should Copy The Fashion Industry

from the unfashionable-ideas dept

Techdirt has had many posts pointing out that the huge and vibrant fashion industry is a perfect demonstration that you don’t need monopolies to succeed, and that bringing in copyright for clothes and accessories now would be positively harmful. One of the people who’s been making that point for years is Kal Raustiala (co-author of this month’s Techdirt book club choice, The Knockoff Economy). NPR Books has just posted a short interview with him that succinctly explains why copyright would be a disaster for the fashion industry. Here are a couple of the key points.

For a start, Raustiala explains why copying is so good for the fashion world:

fashion relies on trends, and trends rely on copying. So you can think of copying as a turbocharger that spins the fashion cycle faster, so things come into fashion faster, they go out of fashion faster, and that makes fashion designers want to come up with something new because we want something new.

That’s the familiar argument that copying helps to drive innovation. But copying does something even more important: it helps define what exactly is fashionable.

copying helps condense the market into something that consumers can understand, so people want to follow trends, they want to be able to dress in a way that’s in style; they have to understand that.

That is, without copying, the sense of what is fashionable right now would be diminished, leading to a fractured fashion market. By amplifying and clarifying trends, copying also widens the market for the season’s current fashions.

Raustiala makes an good point about why it’s unusual to apply for design patents — the obvious “protection” here:

it’s unusual to do that because, 1) it’s very expensive to get a patent, and 2) patents require a standard of novelty and originality that’s often hard to reach in the fashion industry, where many things are reworkings of previous things.

That’s a recognition that the fashion industry is a kind of commons, with designers continually drawing on and contributing back to that pool of creativity. It means that other fashion houses can then build on those common ideas, which results in more creativity, and more choices for consumers.

Exactly the same kind of borrowing takes place elsewhere, especially in the computer field. But instead of accepting that fact, companies like Apple and Samsung have opted for an all-or-nothing legal strategy that tries to enclose parts of the knowledge commons through the granting of temporary monopolies on ideas and designs. The result is a huge waste of time and money, whose chief outcome is likely to be less consumer choice as models are blocked or withdrawn. The contrast with the world of fashion is painful.

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Comments on “Why Computer Companies Should Copy The Fashion Industry”

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Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And yet they don’t go nowhere, they move forward because the market leaders stay market leaders by making those advances. They pick up innovation and new ideas coming out of the young designers and art collages and use that to advance the trend and enshrine them self’s as a trend setter which vastly increases the value of their products with in that industry.

That every one else then copies those advances only increases the value of being the one who set that trend while at the same time forcing the trend setters to move on and innovate or end up losing that title.

Apple was granted huge value in being the first to market and in being the ones who set some current trends of design. Now instead of having to put work in to moving that design and trends forward they are just rehashing the same ideas while trying to stop any one competing and forcing them to move on.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re:

Apple was granted huge … advantage (not a done deal)
in being the first to market … with rounded corners

But they weren’t first and, so far, have still been given the advantage solely based upon a geometric shape. This level of stupidity would be minuscule compared to what would certainly occur in the fashion IP circus.

Apparently, there is a “first to whine” doctrine in play.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I was more talking about being the first to the market with the inevitable design that smart phones where going to take. Apple was hugely brave in effectively destroying the market for their major product because they had foresight to see what was coming and decided the only way to compete with it was to beat every one else to the punch. Which they did very effectively… sadly they’ve been granted idiotic patents across the board an dare using them to screw every one over. Shame really.

explicit coward (profile) says:

"Trendy" vs. "useful"

While I agree that, generally speaking, artificial copying barriers do more harm than good, I’m not quite sure if the fashion world can be compared to the computer world without some… restrictions.

As stated in the article the fashion world works around (and follows) trends. The computer world does it too in some cases (entertainment apps, videogames, etc.) but there are also parts in the computer world where trends play a smaller role. Some software should rather be “useful” than “trendy”. To give a simple example: You’d rather buy the software which enables you to perform a certain task with 3 clicks instead of 7.

Don’t misundestand me. I still think the computer world would benefit if the slowing mechanisms named “patent” and “copyright” weren’t in place – but for different reasons.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: "Trendy" vs. "useful"

I don’t think it’s an issue. The trendy software will probably be worked upon to reduce the number of clicks. Gmail was already a heavy trend when Google decided to optimize its own interface to require less server threads (as in less requests before loading the complete user interface) making the loading time much smaller. In my view, the bounce back effect from Apple is shit, I prefer the glowing effect. So maybe instead of suing they could have copied each other and offered multiple choices to the end user.

It only highlights the fact that the patent system is broken.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: "Trendy" vs. "useful"

there are also parts in the computer world where trends play a smaller role.

I think you might be underestimating the “trendiness” of the computer world. Trends drive everything, from what programming languages are dominant to hardware selection, to even the OS.

These trends take place in a constrained environment (as all trends do), and one of those constraints is usefulness, but I literally can’t think of a single aspect of the computer industry where trends aren’t a major influence.

DannyB (profile) says:


Thank you. I was going to point that out myself.

I would like to add that Apple is, once again, ahead of the curve here. Cheap commodity hardware is going to wreck some business models. Apple has recognized that a litigation based business model is the future. Some others still have not seen the writing on the wall yet and still believe they can sell expensive hardware or expensive operating systems.

MagickMark says:

If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants

I think the interesting thing here is that the description of how the fashion world works, that is develop and improve existing innovations, this is exactly what Apples does.

But where Apple have broken the system is then suing the bejesus out of everyone else who tries to innovate on their innovations even when they did not invent the original idea.

Anyone out there remember Apple successfully suing GEM in the 80’s over WIMP GUI’s and also attempting to sue MS over Windows but failing as MS had the resources to fight back? (The GUI was developed at Xerox PARC in the 70?s, read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_GUI for the full story.)

GEM faded and I am sure that losing to Apple did not help and I wonder what would have happened if MS had not had the resources to fight back?

I know other tec companies sue as well but it seems to me that many of these are in response to Apple?s aggressive behaviour.

What Apple should be doing is innovating, seeing what the competition comes up with and then innovate their next device to be better than that.

As Newton said ?If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants [sic].?

Laws currently favour big brands says:

The arguments in this article are flawed by the simple fact that the laws as it currently affects the fashion industry are skewed in favour to established brands and fast fashion outlets rather than up and coming smaller designers.

We need tailored laws, like those currently before congress, that protect these small players. Currently, trade mark laws are very very strong and this is what fashion designers rely on. Design rights in the USA at least, are difficult to obtain. Small designers that don’t have the brand power just simply can’t compete when more well known brands copy eir designs.

The IDPA currently before congress will award automatic copyright protection for novel fashion designs for a period of three years. This is very short and I think, should not negatively impact upon trend making because it would also be quite difficult to infringe.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Copyrights are notoriously easy to infringe upon. Everyone infringes copyright without knowing every day. Load up a random webpage: do you know if that website has the rights necessary for all the graphics, logos and whatnot you see there? Do you? Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

So go on, tell us here how it would quite difficult to infringe on copyrights when it comes to fashion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Copyrights are notoriously easy to infringe upon. Everyone infringes copyright without knowing every day. Load up a random webpage: do you know if that website has the rights necessary for all the graphics, logos and whatnot you see there? Do you? Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Load of horse shit. If the site infringes, then the site infringes, you don’t. You only infringe if you knowingly copy what is on that website and keep it.

Where do you get this garbage from?

Ed C. says:

Re: Re:

Think about would have happened if fashion had been included in copyright from the very beginning by borrowing from the French protectionist policies. OK, so it starts with three years. Fast forward to the industrial era, where clothing was becoming mass produced. Now that the latest fashions could be copied and distributed with reckless abandon, the big designers will lobby congress, crying that their “life’s work” is being “stolen” from them! How could a mere three years be enough? The length and strength of enforcement would be expanded.

This cycle of whining to Uncle Sam until he caves in will continue over and over again. And since fashion copyright would continue to lag behind other copyrights, they will whine that much harder! Fast forward to modern day. Now they would be demanding that fashion copyright should be “harmonized” with all other forms of IP. Yep, 70 years after death!

Given the history of copyright, it would obviously be better to not open that “pandora’s box” again, given that we already know what’s inside.

gnudist says:

Re: Re:

Thing is, us copyright is supposed to be about “promoting the progress of the scienes and useful arts”

Tell me more about how the world leader in fasion(a country without fashion copyright) should copy the losers who do have fashion copyright? How would that advance fashion when we’re already the most advanced without fashion copyright?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can’t see how adding the power to litigate against designs that aren’t “novel” (good luck pinning that down) is going to help small designers. All it’s going to accomplish is the same thing software patents do now, which is give larger companies a resource they can stockpile and use to extort settlement money from the small designers, who can’t afford to bring a lawsuit to court.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:

I get the picture of young designers toiling away all day to create thousands of “novel” designs that will almost never see the light of day, all for the off chance that someone else makes something even remotely similar. Yeah, that would basically be like the engineers at IBM and other patent mills, err.., I mean “research firms”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fast technology generation...

The real issue with technology is the time and effort needed to create it. You simply cannot compare the fashion model to the tech industry because their R&D and other factors don’t track the same at all! If technology innovation and product to market was in fact the same as fashion then you would have a similar situation. Until that point is reached you simply cannot handle it the same. I wish you could, I’d love to see increased innovation and a ton of lawyers looking for a new career, but it simply is not a viable business model based on other factors.

That being said there’s certainly a plethora of valid arguments for loosening up the system and shortening the span of the lockdowns. Simply doing that would have an amazing impact on the market. *shrug*

Joe Publius (profile) says:

I thought of something in regard to one particular line from Raustiala:

2) patents require a standard of novelty and originality that’s often hard to reach in the fashion industry, where many things are reworkings of previous things.

I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to cite it, but I know there have been stories, some posted here, that talk about how patent examiners are overloaded. If it is true, then submitting a design patent, no matter how unsuitable, might work actually work in the submitters favor. If for nothing then the pressure to approve them for the sake of proving how “innovative” we are in the US.

Kenny Olmstead (profile) says:

Fashion Consulting on Computers

While many have pointed out that the fashion industry and computer industry are not the same, there is a more useful exercise that I think could come from this comparison. Have someone who is heavily into writing and understanding the fashion industry turn their lens on the computer industry, and vice-versa. Sometimes the lack of knowledge about an industry can lead to insights that those inside the circle would never see. This does not mean have someone who isn’t knowledgeable at all take a look, but rather someone who is highly knowledgeable about something that is seemingly unrelated.

Critical thinking is not industry specific, but sometimes being an expert within one industry leads to the cognitive trap where being an expert conditions you to miss things an outsider would see quickly. This is not a knock on experts, every person falls into this trap at some point in their life. Thats where other people are key, the best fashion person and the best computer person may not think they have something to offer the other, but get them in a room and the results could be pretty interesting.

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