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.

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  1. identicon
    squik, 10 Apr 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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