IP Information & News

Can you protect new retail technologies with IP rights?

Alison Cole

By Alison Cole

Senior Trade Mark Attorney

Retailers are increasingly differentiating themselves through the experiences they offer customers. Whether this is achieved through physical or intangible means, successful retail today requires much more than simply providing goods for people to buy. Many retailers are turning to technology to enhance their offering further. Digital brands and physical retailers alike are recognising that getting customers through the door is the key to providing that memorable experience and brand touchpoint to ultimately drive sales. Can the innovative methods being used be protected?

Personalisation

Adidas’ ‘Knit For You’ enables the creation of unique sweaters and Danish shoe brand Ecco has launched personalised, 3D-printed insoles. Levi’s offers a laser-printing system which can design jeans in minutes. Primark has tapped into this trend through its ‘Custom Lab’ — a bespoke print lab for t-shirts and other garments in its new Birmingham store.

Each of these are great examples of personalisation which, according to a study last year, is the biggest trend driving fashion businesses. Over 70% of US consumers now expect personalisation in their shopping destinations. Not only will shoppers will pay more for personalised goods, but the introduction of personalisation drives footfall among both existing and new customers, offers brands unique opportunities for customer engagement, reduces waste and encourages more durable and sustainable products.

Since the names of the ‘labs’, spaces and technologies that are used to create personalised items may become ways of identifying with a brand, trade mark protection could be relevant. It’s also possible that any new proprietary technology used in personalisation methods or processes could warrant patent protection. This could enable you to steal the march on any competitors looking to use similar enticements.

A word of caution, however. The balance between the customer’s desire to feel that they’ve created something unique and the brand owner’s desire to be able to exploit anything that is created could cause friction. The ownership of any copyright or design right in the items themselves will therefore be key. If you’re considering offering personalisation in your retail store, you should take advice from your IP attorney on how to avoid such a conflict.

Improving service

In addition to using technologies to customise products, retailers are also working hard to personalise the service they provide. Techniques like RFID chips in garments and readers in changing rooms recognise what customers are trying on to allow for quick and easy size changes, or to request similar or complimentary products on a touch-screen mirror. AR and VR are being used by companies such as Zara to have hologram models wandering around in-store in new designs and by Burberry to allow consumers to redecorate their walls with Burberry prints.

Nike’s new app uses geolocation tagging to know when you arrive in-store and give you the best possible experience. It combines stock checking with product reservations, holding products for you while you browse and enables you to pay without queuing. Nike plans to develop the app further, for example with the ability to scan a mannequin and have the outfit sent to a fitting room.

Australia’s Sneakerboy takes an interesting approach to luxury trainer retailing. Customers use an app to order and buy products, which means that its beautiful store is capable of stocking every single item in every possible size for you to try on. This ‘showroom’ concept is taken even further by Samsung — in its new London Coal Drops Yard store, there are no products on shelves or tills with which to put through orders. The space simply exists for customers to experience Samsung products in its ‘digital playground’ — be that using a phone to ‘spray paint’ onto a virtual graffiti wall, having a selfie transformed into a Van Gogh-style portrait or testing out its latest home technologies.

Such creativity deserves to be rewarded and protected, so that competitors are prevented from copying the same format. Retailers should ensure that their existing trade mark protection covers these new services. If you create new names or logos to promote such services, new protection should be sought.

Copyright might protect the content of an app and unique store layouts might warrant protection. Copyright and design protection might apply to installations and specific displays of products. As ever, design protection may be available for any new product.

Your IP attorney can provide tailored advice to help you protect elements of your modern retail experience. Feel free to get in touch with me at ajc@udl.co.uk to find out more.

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