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Will Spanx Case Make Design Patents a Fashion Trend?

The escalating patent battle between shapewear makers Spanx and Yummie Tummie over body-slimming camisoles has sparked discussion about what it and similar cases may mean for the future of design patents in the fashion industry. The dispute has proven to be quite alluring to news outlets and bloggers, inspiring a wide range of punny headlines such as "Battle of the Bulge", "Girdlegate 2013" and "Spanx Tells Yummie Tummie to 'Put Your Big Girl Panties On and Deal With It'!"

In short, shapewear industry giant Spanx filed a request for declaratory judgment in federal court in Atlanta in March, in response to a cease and desist letter sent in January by the Yummie Tummie shapewear brand, which claimed that Spanx's designs infringe Yummie Tummie's patents for three-panel slimming camisoles. Last week, Yummie Tummie filed a patent infringement suit against Spanx in New York. In the meantime, Yummie Tummie founder (and reality TV personality) Heather Thomson posted an open letter on the Yummie Tummie website to billionaire Spanx founder Sara Blakely, tried to start a Twitter campaign (#shameonyouspanx) and told Women's Wear Daily that Blakely should be "ready for war."

Forbes ran an interesting piece on Wednesday calling the Spanx-Yummie Tummie dispute "Fashion's 'Apple vs. Samsung'." Just as the Apple-Samsung case put a spotlight on design patents in the technology industry, Forbes' Clare O'Connor writes, the shapewear battle could help the fashion world realize the potential for design patents as a tool for intellectual property protection. In part because the timeline of patent cases can often exceed the short lifespan of fashion trends, patent infringement claims haven't been the go-to method for protecting fashion designs. "For clothes and accessories with longer shelf lives like handbags, sunglasses and lingerie, though, the design patent is a useful tool," O'Connor writes. She also notes that fashion brands "can now ask not just for a judge to step into their design patent dispute, but the U.S. Patent Office, thanks to November's America Invents Act."

The Forbes piece and other coverage of the shapewear dispute link it to another recent high-profile case that illustrates the potential for design patent enforcement in the fashion industry: the lawsuit brought last fall by yoga-wear company Lululemon Athletica against Calvin Klein over alleged infringement of design patents for Lululemon's "Astro Pant." The case ended with a confidential settlement. Whether or not that's the direction that Spanx and Yummie Tummie are headed, it will be interesting to see which other apparel companies will decide to step into the design patent litigation ring.

Posted by Product Team on April 11, 2013 at 04:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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