Lululemon is not all “ohm” all the time. The brand is getting litigious with some heavy hitters in the fashion world–namely, Calvin Klein.
The Canadian brand, known for their pricey yoga gear, filed suit in Delaware on August 13, accusing Calvin Klein and their manufacturer G-III Apparel of infringing on three patents on designs of Lululemon’s “Astro” pants, according to the Chicago Tribune. Our friends at the Fordham Fashion Law Institute gave us the heads up on this legal move, so we chatted with program director Susan Scafidi to help us sort out the legal details.
First, Scafidi explains that Lululemon has three design patents that cover the Astro style: one on the actual waistband itself, the other two for two specific styles of the pant. A design patent is different from your typical patent, otherwise known as a “utility” patent, in that it covers “ornamental” design rather than functional design. The problem with a design patent is that they take so long to obtain and are so expensive that they are typically not worth pursuing, but Scafidi says the Astro pant is a good candidate, as Lululemon produces them in multiple styles over multiple seasons.
So why has Lululemon patented what seems to be a fairly simple design concept, and why are they suing? It all comes down to brand protection and PR. “Its uniqueness and recognition in the public absolutely gives the appearance to the customer that they are unique and shores up their intellectual property portfolio,” explains Scafidi. And while it might seem that Calvin Klein is a strange brand for Lululemon to pursue, that too seems to be part of the strategy. “They chose a company whose brand name we all recognize,” says Scafidi, “Calvin Klein as a named party in a lawsuit is very interesting because you have two big names.” [Ed. note: Hence, our headline. We're suckers.] In suing a brand like Calvin Klein, they are sending a message to smaller companies who might also think about knocking off Lululemon designs that they are not afraid to protect their brand.
While lawsuits are always a risky move, Lululemon has a lot to gain here. They’ve already claimed a small victory in this suit–Calvin Klein has removed both styles of pants named in the suit from their website, which Scafidi believes might mean Calvin Klein is thinking of settling. “Even if the case settles, and they never do go to court, this is spectacular publicity for Lululemon,” she explains.
Most importantly, this suit could have larger implications for the industry as a whole. The US and Canada have notoriously lax protection for designers. Scafidi is hopeful that this lawsuit could change things, adding, “It might encourage other companies who have product lines that might be similar in that they use an element season to season, garment to garment, to see if that [design patent] might work for them.” Hear that Proenza Schouler?
Overall, this seems to be a carefully calculated and fascinating move on the part of Lululemon. All those hours of focusing the mind in yoga have really paid off!