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Top fashion legal topics – #3 3D Printers à la mode

As part of the series of posts on fashion related topics, we previously discussed about wearable technologies and franchising agreements while in this post we would better focus on an issue already touched in this previous post i.e. the issues originated by the friction between traditional IP rights and 3D printing technologies.

These technologies, apparently, influenced most illustrators dealing with the Milan Fashion Week: a fair amount if images, like this or this, depicts dresses created and manufactured, totally or partially, with 3D printers.

It could well be a matter of hype: designers love to get media attention and 3D printing technology is presently trendy. There are however a couple of circumstances that suggest to look at the phenomenon with some more attention.

First, materials. New materials stimulate new shapes and new solutions, which sooner or later cascade from the height of haute couture to everyday apparel. Second, allure. The adoption path of new technologies usually require some intermediate steps before they reach the masses. Catwalks are a perfect showcase.

It is therefore reasonable to expect a further push towards the diffusion of 3D printing technology. This will affect, inter alia, the fashion industry, which managed to keep a strong separation between different markets, from haute couture to pret a porter to mass market. A Gucci tailor made coat is not in the same league of an Emporio Armani coat, which again has nothing to do with a Zara coat.

Insert 3D printers and the corresponding possibility to add personalization to mass-market production and the above well-guarded boundaries start to blur.

Such a future could present interesting issues from the legal point of view: the fashion industry heavily relies on two pillars: trademarks and exclusivity. The personalization allowed by 3D printing technologies could change the meaning of exclusivity, thereby increasing even more the importance of the trademarks. In a world where everyone can afford a tailor-made (rectius: a 3D printer-made) dress, trademarks and brands will be crucial to identify the creations of top designers and stylists.

Then comes the need to protect the creations themselves against unauthorized copies; the diffusion of 3D printers could escalate these kind of conflicts, too, and involve new players, including the customers.

We will keep you posted of the developments, here and in our magazine Law-a-la-Mode.

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