Updated: Sep 5
Here is another guest post from Marta Carmona (Master of Advocacy at the University of Málaga)
Smart fabrics are textiles which include technology embedded into their fibres thanks to the development of extremely thin smart materials. The inclusion of those materials gives wearables an increased functionality and therefore an incentive for buyers to pay more for the wearable and, in theory, wear it more and for a longer period, which ultimately would increase the sustainability value of the fashion designs.
The protection of fashion designs manufactured with smart fabrics through intellectual property is harder than the protection of fashion designs not featuring them as you need to protect both the outside and the inside of the wearable. Normally, a wearable manufactured with smart fabrics will include the following intellectual property rights:
Patents protect the hardware and software of the wearable.
Trade secrets can be used instead of patents when you do not want to disclose the technical details of the wearable works.
Trade marks for the wearable brand name and any associate logo.
Design right: for the shape and appearance of the wearable (this design can be registered or unregistered).
Copyright may be available for the literary work in the source code and the artistic work in appearance of the wearable.
The inclusion of technology in fashion designs means that problems usually affecting technological inventions will now affect the fashion industry too such as expensive and distracting patent infringement claims.
Additionally, manufacturing smart wearables mean that companies will have a large number of commercial considerations including a collaboration agreement, licensing agreement or co-branding, since different areas of expertise are combined in smart wearables and each industry have limitations. The terms of the agreement should ensure the confidentiality of the product is maintained.
According to the previsions of the European Commission in “Textiles and Clothing Manufacturing: Vision for 2025 and Actions Needed”, smart fabrics will become increasingly important in our everyday life, as they are being used in medical care, sport apparel, underwear, personal protection, etc. If fashion designs keep having a short life cycle instead of a longer life cycle as expected, the amount of rights -and time- necessary to adequately protect smart wearables might be a challenge in the future.