Posted by Stephen Welfare, Partner
Wearable tech – a threat to jewellers or an opportunity?
Each year when #BlackFriday and the Christmas sales period approaches, retailers (and accordingly suppliers) are looking forward to their busiest time of the year and a return on the R&D work throughout the year. For fashion-led industries such as jewellery, seasonal variations and being ‘on trend’ can make a big difference: get it right and your product is the must have this Christmas and you’ll be ‘quids in’, but get it wrong and you’ll be in potential financial difficulty. So design is key.
As if second guessing what the next trend, or look, will be in such a fast moving and ever evolving industry wasn’t hard enough, jewellers must now also consider what impact wearable tech will have; which innovations will take off and whether to move into that territory. Is wearable tech complimentary to purely aesthetic jewellery, or a direct threat? Could wearable tech replace jewellery altogether given the anatomical limitations, and the limitations of choice exercised, especially by men? If the choice is between a wrist-worn item offering tech services to its wearer such as GPS and/or health monitoring devices as well as time recording against a mere aesthetic bracelet, can pure jewellery hope to compete? Is the traditional wrist watch, already under threat from mobile devices, even further under threat from wearable tech?
Significant growth is predicted in the wearable technology sector over the coming years. New wearable devices continue to come to market. By 2022 the International Data Corporation (www.idc.com) anticipates that £200 million wearable tech products will be sold worldwide.
If wearable tech is to compete with jewellery then aesthetics will be important, but the first concern of these tech device manufacturers is the protection of the technology itself.
The invention should be protected by Grant of Patent. These are granted jurisdictionally, although an International Patent Application may be applied for providing an initial worldwide protection and continuing in whichever country the Applicant choses to proceed with, but this all takes time and is of significant cost.
What if the wearable tech is the creation of artificial intelligence; who owns the IP? This is a question troubling the law which is struggling to keep up. At present Section 178 Copyright Designs and Patents (CDPA) provides that for copyright purposes computer generated in relation to a work “means the work is generated by a computer in circumstances such that there is no human involvement”. If there is no human involvement can rights be owned in the creation? The author of the work is said, by Section 9(3) CDPA to be taken to be “…the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken”.
Is the fact that the necessary data input to the AI system is usually done by a human sufficient? Provided that a human is involved in the data input it is likely (in the writer’s opinion) that an otherwise AI created invention can be patented.
The use of trademarks to distinguish an entities goods from those of another apply equally to tech products as they do to jewellery products. The strength of, say, the Pandora or Samsung brands is unarguable, but trademark doesn’t protect the appearance of the product.
The functionality of wearable tech is of obvious importance, but so too is appearance, especially if wearable tech is ever going to compete with jewellery for that space on a person’s wrist.
The shape and appearance of the device might be capable of protection as a registered design if it is original and has individual character. Design right is far cheaper and quicker than a Patent Application but does not protect the inventive element (the technology), so the only safe way to proceed is to seek to obtain Patent, trademark and design right for the product wherever relevant. Given the level of investment required to bring a wearable tech product to market it would seem essential to ensure the maximum possible intellectual property protection.
Jewellery or technology?
It is perhaps unlikely that wearable tech will ever fully replace adornables. However essential the technology might be characterised, it will surely not usurp a diamond ring or necklace as a girl’s best friend! The challenge is to claim that space on the human wrist for their products in place of traditional watches, bracelets etc and for jewellery companies to rise to this challenge. Whoever can combine the two may perhaps clean up!
Can we help?
Our Technology and Media Team have an outstanding reputation for contentious and non-contentious Intellectual Property matters with recognised experience in the jewellery industry. We can assist with all elements of design registration and branding and providing representation and advice in Intellectual Property Rights disputes.
Please contact our Team at our London office or Stephen Welfare with any enquiries:
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