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Trademarks in fashion

guccibygucci.JPGWhen you report out an article, you often hear a lot of interesting stories that don't end up fitting the overall piece. Luckily, I have a blog, so I can still use them. So!

As explained below, the fashion industry doesn't have copyrights or patents. What it does have, however, are trademarks. It's legal to make a bag that looks just like a Prada bag, but it's not legal to make a bag that carries Prada's logo. (People still do it, of course, but that's counterfeiting, and it'll get you in trouble.)

Now, you might've noticed that the fashion industry seems enamored of logos and brand icons and all sorts of other identifying trademarks. Some scholars argue that that's a reaction to the absence of copyright: Since they can't patent the design, they have to protect the thing they can protect -- the trademarked logo -- integral to the look of the piece. One upside of adding a copyright to fashion, then, might be fewer garish logos plastered all over everything.

Other scholars disagree. Whatever the reason for the first logo, it's inarguable now that people like logos. Lots of brands give out logo stickers that people like to put on their cars and laptops and guitar cases. For better or worse, slapping logos on everything is an innovation that consumers seem to reward, which is at least part of the reason companies keep doing it.

Moreover, the pressure toward logos isn't so strong that it effects all product categories. You might expect to see logos all over high-end dresses and suits, as those are expensive designs that can't be copyrighted. But they're almost totally absent from both. Instead, they're most prevalent on things such as handbags and T-shirts, which implies that this is a matter of consumer taste rather than economic necessity.

Anyway, I don't know the answer to this, but I thought it an interesting debate worth mentioning.

Photo credit: By Maria Valentino/The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  August 20, 2010; 5:18 PM ET
 
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Comments

dude, computers and software which do have copyright protection, have logos!

Posted by: davitivan | August 20, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I think the popular obsession with logos and brands is fairly characterized as conspicuous consumption, ala Thorstein Veblen. If you look at my Louis Vuitton bag, you will notice that I spent thousands of dollars on an item that consists of a few dollars of raw materials, and that means I am so rich I can waste vast amounts of money on trifles, which is a virtuous activity undertaken only by those in a high class. Workers who toil all day in productive (i.e., gross) tasks can't afford such a bag. However, they may wish to try to fool others that they are in that high class, so they'll buy the knockoff and try to act as if they were trained in the mannerisms of the rich, instead of spending all day working.

Posted by: someone-else | August 20, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

I think you have it backwards: the actual loss from copying the really high-end products is relatively small; by contrast the sales of mass-market luxuries (such as handbags) are enormous, and that is why designers have lots of sub-brands in those products.

Posted by: albamus | August 21, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Klein, sinking in his own irony: "Luckily, I have a blog [...]"

No, dear girl, you don't. The Washington Post has a blog that they employ you to fill. That's their logo at the top, and you are a small cog in their brand of propaganda making. In many ways, you, Klein, are an artifact of the very fashion industry of your post.

Posted by: msoja | August 22, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY I THINK IT'S WRONG FOR A PERSON THAT HAS WORKED HARD ON COMING UP WITH AN IDEA AND THAY CAN'T HAVE THAT FASHION IDEA TRADEMARK.IT'S NOT RIGHT THE LAW NEEDS TO CHANGE. WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAT HAD GOT RIPED OFF PROSUEING TRADEMARKS IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY. LAYWERS / USPO THAT DOESN'T EXPLAIN IT'S A WASTE OF TO FILE THE PAPER WORK.I'M PISS OFF BECAUSE I'M IN THE PROCESS OF FILING AND I HAVE COME UP WITH A DESIGN THAT NOW I CAN'T SHOW TO ANYONE GOING FORWARD .

Posted by: edwardsj1963 | August 24, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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