Depending on which camp you subscribe to, Hedi Slimane has been credited with making several significant contributions in the name of ground-breaking fashion. The slim suit, as shown on the runways during his time as creative director of Dior Homme in the 2000’s, is one of them. This is often a controversial topic, as others tag supposed rival, Raf Simons, as its originator. The latter camp often consists of those who find Slimane to be more of an aggregator of existing designs; particularly, Raf Simons’s in the instant example. Up now for discussion is Saint Laurent’s Janis Platform Pump, for which Slimane has been credited as its “inventor.”
The seemingly basic high heel – which is currently available for purchase online and in YSL boutiques for just under $800 – has been awarded design patent protection that extends to “the ornamental design of the shoe.” Its “inventor” is listed on the design patent as Hedi Slimane. So, what exactly did Slimane “invent” here? I’m actually a bit unsure. According to Net-a-Porter, Saint Laurent “redefined the razor-sharp pump with this sleekly structured Janis version.” Nordstrom’s description of the shoe claims that it is an “envelope-pushing platform pump finished with a sharply pointed toe.” Still, the “redefined” and “envelope-pushing” elements of the shoe are relatively unclear.
My confusion might shed some light on how the process of obtaining a design patent actually works. As you may know, a design patent protects the visual ornamental characteristics embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. So, whoever invents any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture may obtain a patent. The critical element for us here is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s interpretation of novelty. “When a patent is allowed it doesn’t mean the examiner found that the design was novel—it only means they didn’t find proof that it was not novel,” says Sarah Burstein, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and our go-to patent expert when it comes to fashion. She elaborated, saying: “More specifically, if the patent examiner didn’t find an identical shoe in the prior art (or, at least, in whatever prior art they looked at), then they can’t reject YSL’s design.”
Note: In general, the U.S. only rewards inventors that conceive “new” ideas or inventions. To determine if an invention is “new”, the U.S. Patent Office compares the invention to “prior art.” This typically includes any earlier publications (think: a magazine article, a published patent or patent application, advertising, a web page, a college thesis, etc.) that show the invention is not new or is obvious.
This presents an interesting point both in terms of the grounds that dictate whether design patents are to be issued but also in terms of whether or not Slimane is actually the “inventor” of the style of shoe that the Janis pump embodies.