When is a Patent the Right Choice? A Case Study of Alexander Wang

U.S. intellectual property law does not have the best reputation in the fashion world.  Designers bemoan that there is little they can do against endless knockoffs.  Most fashion companies accept trademarks as their only protection.  Some seek additional protection by copyrighting their prints, but it is rare for a fashion designer to successfully protect his works with patents.
There are many reasons for this phenomenon.  To begin with, it can take between eight to twenty months to obtain a patent, which makes this an impractical method for an industry that cycles new products every couple months.  Secondly, although it may be possible to protect specific aspects of a design with a patent, this can be more complicated with designs as a whole, since designers must prove that their designs are new and nonobvious.  When seeking a design patent, designers must also prove that their design is ornamental as opposed to functional.
Alexander Wang has found a way to make the patent system work for him and his designs.  For example, when Wang began tying his brand to a hardware-heavy aesthetic in 2012, he filed for and was granted a utility patent for the studs on his bags and clothing.  His patent application emphasized the specific grooves and channels on the studs.  Recently, Wang also obtained a design patent for “bags with corners,” which protects his handbags with metal-covered corners.
What these examples illustrate is that, although patents may not be the right choice in every situation, they can be a great tool to protect aspects of your designs that you expect to be part of your brand for a long time.