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Patents in a Wearable Tech World

A panel discussion at the Fashion Law Institute explores legal landscape of burgeoning area.

The early birds in the wearable tech world should takes steps to hold on to their good ideas.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That was a big part of the message at a panel discussion at the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University Friday.

Billed as “Wired & Laced: Patents, Technology, and the Future of Fashion,” the talk delved into some of the legal ramifications of working in wearable technology — a buzzy and burgeoning field of smart watches, video glasses, 3-D printing and other geek-meets-chic items.

The topic came to the fore earlier last week when Adidas sued Under Armour Inc., alleging it infringed on its patents related to a fitness-tracking system. Such disputes may become more commonplace if the wearable-tech market grows as some project. Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty, for instance, said if Apple did launch an iWatch, as expected, it could drive revenues of up to $17.5 billion in its first year.

“Patents are crucial to the successful development of the wearable-tech sector,” Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director at the Fashion Law Institute, told WWD. “Not only will patents protect designers, but they’ll make collaborations both possible and profitable. Patents’ usefulness to fashion has been somewhat limited by time and expense, but the rise of the new wearable technologies and the fashion industry’s new awareness of the power of patents is already evident in increased registrations and in court.”

Mindy Bickel, innovation and outreach coordinator at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said fashion’s inventive set can use utility as well as design patents to protect a new process or the look and feel of a product.

It’s often a long process that can be difficult to manage, but Bickel pointed patent filers toward the office’s patent ombudsman, who can help companies move along their applications.

More companies are moving to have their ideas protected.

Overall, Bickel said filings for design patents rose 37 percent from 2009 through 2013, while utility patent applications are up 23 percent.

Everpurse is part of that surge.

The company, which was founded by chief executive officer Liz Salcedo, designed a system that enables a handbag to wirelessly charge a cell phone. Salcedo said the first prototype for the technology was built in 2011 and that Everpurse secured one patent and has another pending.

While the Everpurse does design its own bags, its focus is on partnering with other brands. “Co-branding is a big deal for us, we’d like to have the Intel inside model,” Salcedo said in an interview. The company is working on a collaboration for fall and holiday.

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“In a couple years, everyone’s accessories are going to be smart,” said Salcedo (who might also prove to be canny if her company’s technology finds lots of users).

“We’ve seen the technology [gadgets] become a bigger and bigger part of our personal identity,” Salcedo said. “They’re something that makes a statement about who we are, much like fashion.”