Lululemon wants Calvin Klein to confess to infringement

Fashion industry experts know that design patents can be easy to get but nearly impossible to protect. Yoga-clothing manufacturer Lululemon Athletica Inc. is suing Calvin Klein Inc. for allegedly infringing upon the waistband design of its “Astro Pant.”

The intellectual property lawsuit named Calvin Klein and its supplier, G-III Apparel Group Ltd., for lifting designs protected by three Lululemon patents. Apparel design lawsuits in California and across the U.S. tend to fizzle, since courts often don’t view the cases as legitimate arguments over art.

Judges who favor protection of a clothing maker’s brand name or trademarked logo frequently see designs incorporated in regularly-worn clothing as too “functional” to isolate as one company’s property. Shapes of garments are rarely considered exclusive unless design copies are exact.

Copycat designs are hard to prevent, but getting design patents is easier than ever. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office used to take more than a year to make patent design decisions, which by then were outdated.

Design patents today are reviewed within months, and atent approvals have skyrocketed.

The head of the California Fashion Association believes Lululemon will have a difficult time convincing a court that an extra “seam or two” into yoga pants is unique, even though Lululemon holds a patent for the waistband design.

Lululemon won’t have any problem footing the bill for an intellectual property fight against Calvin Klein. The 14-year-old yoga-clothing manufacturer had $1 billion in revenue in 2011. The latest company financial figures say Lululemon is on track to beat that mark by at least $300 million in 2012.

Calvin Klein attorneys have made no formal response to the Lululemon patent design infringement lawsuit. Legal observers think the Calvin Klein defense will dispute the validity of a design patent for something as common as a waistband.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Downward Docket: The Yoga Pants War,” Ashby Jones, Sept. 11, 2012