Scintilla – a flash, a spark, an iota. Shorthand for creativity and an indicator of inventiveness under Australian law.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Australian fashion shakes its money maker

By Senior Associate Lester Miller

Fashion designers have quadrupled their usage of the registered designs system in the last decade, and 80 per cent of those users are Australian.

Our wallets are gratefully resting unopened in the eye of a sartorial storm, between the Melbourne and Sydney fashion celebrations. We took pause to reflect on the usage and users of Australia's registered design system, and enquire whether fashion designers find the system useful.

Overall Australian design protection

We interrogated the IP Australia designs database for this review. Overall, in the last 15 years, design applications have increased 55 per cent, as shown below in Figure 1.

The composition of the innovators overall is quite different from those in the patent system, where foreign applicants outweigh Australian applicants by roughly 10 to 1. Up until very recently, registered designs were filed equally by Australians and foreign applicants - in 2006 it was a 50/50 split. In the years from then to today, design applications by Australians have dropped by about 10 per cent but the number of foreign applicants have increased by about 30 per cent.

Figure 1 – Registered design applications in Australia 1998 - 2012

Australian fashion design leading the way

In fashion, that trend has been reversed - the number of Australian applicants has grown to be a whopping 80 per cent.

Digging down sector by sector in Figure 2, we see fashion apparel, which in 1998 was a fairly minor player in the registered design system at 5 per cent of total users, has now doubled in relative size to 10 per cent of overall users. Depending on which section of the graph you segment, fashion industry tripled or quadrupled its design application total. Also, 80 per cent of the applications were not filed as Paris Convention applications from overseas, which indicates that the applicants were Australian.

The red line in Figure 2 below is fashion apparel filings, which sharply increased from a flat line in the high 100s a decade ago to the 500 – 600 range today.

Other sectors

Another sector similarly sharply increasing its use of the design system, albeit with a higher volatility, is the recording devices category which includes smartphones: the lilac line. Packaging (dark green) and hardware (dark blue) innovators have also taken increasing advantage of the design system to protect their designs, with a steady uptake in their use of the system from a high base.

Small industry users are seen in the flatter lines along the base of the graph – camera designers and sunglasses (optical category – violet) who, according to our research appear to register designs prolifically in the United States but not in Australia. Pharma product makers have also commenced a small increase in their use of the system, on a par volume-wise with adornments (body and landscape).

Figure 2 – Australian registered design applications by Sector 1998 - 2012

Protecting the bottom line

IP Australia implemented the 'Fashion Rules' design promotion campaign in the mid-noughties. It seems likely it has put registration and legal protection of their creative work on the radar of fashion designers. The success of Review Australia in asserting its design rights in at least some of its Federal Court cases also may also have had some effect. 

The widespread availability of technology to facilitate copying has also likely spurred many to action to protect their designs.

Businesses that have design integrated into their vision and strategy have unmistakably been growing at a faster rate than those where it is incidental, according to Brandon Gien of the Australian International Design Awards. 

The 55 per cent growth in registration of designs generally, and the four-fold growth in fashion apparel over the last decade or so, may be an indication that businesses are taking protection of the design contribution to their bottom line increasingly seriously.

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