Bottega Veneta has added another design to its growing list of design patents: this time its one of the Spring/Summer 2014 runway bags. The Italian design house, known primarily for its woven leather accessories, has a rather extensive portfolio of design patents. It has upwards of 20 patented bag designs, and protection that covers its well known Intrecciato weave – all of which were designed (or "invented” in patent language) by Tomas Maier. Appointed as creative director for the house in 2001, Maier has presided over an extensive expansion of the Bottega Veneta brand, in terms of both ready-to-wear and accessories. Not surprisingly, along with that expansion has come vigilant protection of its intellectual property.
The house has been filing design patent applications quite regularly since 2006 for an array of its most striking bags – from the Spring/Summer 2013 collection exotics bags to the Vendome Crocodile Shoulder Bag, which likely experienced a hike in sales after Kim Kardashian was spotted carrying the bag a couple of years ago. An application for the design at issue – the ornamental design for a handbag – was filed in April 2014, based on a foreign application that was filed in Italy in November 2013, a month or so after the brand’s Spring/Summer 2014 show. The U.S. design patent was issued relatively shortly thereafter, in November 2015.
Design patents, which protect the ornamental design of a functional item, such as a handbag, often prove to be a time-consuming and costly form of protection to obtain. The turnaround time – or the pendency, the term that refers to the time taken by a patent examiner between filing and issuance of the design patent – tends to be about 18 months, with some taking quite a bit longer. While a year and a half is not a terribly long time, it is often too long to wait for most garments and accessories. Given the very seasonal and cyclical nature of the fashion industry, oftentimes, a design will be “so last season,” so to speak, by the time a design patent is issued, thereby making it less likely that the design will be copied.
As such, we tend to see such protection sought only for brands’ staple items, and only by brands with the upwards of $10,000 to spend on each single patent. While design patents generally tend to be far less commonly utilized in the fashion industry than other forms of intellectual property, namely, copyright and trademarks, they make sense for the accessory brands of Bottega Veneta. These brands have the resources to spend to protect their designs and because many of their accessories – whether it is a shoe or a purse – tend to become brand staples, a design patent is often considered to be a worthwhile investment. This is obviously distinct from a very season-specific top or dress, for instance, which a house plans to show in a single collection and never re-introduce in any significant manner.
Moreover, as blatant copying by fast fashion retailers and affordable luxury brands becomes increasingly commonplace, brands that can afford it are placing significant reliance on design patents. Jimmy Choo, for instance, has been amassing design patents on its footwear for about ten years now. Louboutin has also been building a collection of design patents of its own, as has Hermès. Such protection is also popular to protect bags, as indicated by filings by Alexander Wang (one for his Robyn bag, for example), YSL, Celine (think: its Case and Diamond bags), and Balenciaga over the past several years.
A couple of the most recent design patents to be granted include one for Saint Laurent’s Janis pumps and one for Balenciaga’s bow bracelet.