14 March 2019Trademarks

CITMA 2019: Blockchain could be the future of protecting fashion, lawyer says

Blockchain could be the future of protecting trademarks in the fashion industry, says  Rosie Burbidge, an IP Partner at  gunnercooke in London.

Speaking today, March 14 at the  Chartered Institute of Trademark Attorneys (CITMA) spring conference in London, Burbidge said blockchain could be used to track the entire life cycle of a product.

A blockchain is a decentralised, distributed ledger for maintaining a permanent record of transactions.

Burbidge said blockchain is an attractive option for many companies as it promises increased security. This is because information is spread through a network of computers rather than a single centralised database.

Aside from being more secure, Burbidge said it also offers greater transparency because companies can choose to share as much information as possible among the network.

In practice, Burbidge said fashion brands could implement blockchain in their protection procedures by adding a QR code or near-field communication chip (NFC) to the care label of clothing.

These NFCs work similarly to contactless payment cards and can be scanned by a consumer through a mobile phone app. The app will then determine if the item is registered on a brand’s blockchain. If it is, then it is a genuine product.

Similarly, QR codes can also be scanned in this way.

Burbidge highlighted the important of the technology being smartphone-compatible. She said this makes the process “as simple and streamlined as possible” for the consumer.

Similarly, she said consumers could use this to track and check the life cycle of a product.

“One of the exciting things about this is you can see exactly how an item progresses from raw materials entering a factory, to individuals in the factory working on a product, to how it reaches the consumer”, Burbidge said.

She said by tracking the product’s life cycle, a company could also minimise leaks in its distribution chain.

“One problem in the fashion world is that all members of the distribution chain are not always strict in the enforcement of IP protection,” Burbidge said.

This can lead to breaches of IP, such as products entering markets where they are not authorised.

“Blockchain means you can check this much more readily and plug holes that appear in the chain as and when they are identified,” she added.

By keeping track of the life cycle of a product, businesses could also monitor how consumers use their products in the long-term and where their products tend to end up.

Additionally, Burbidge said there was a possibility of brands using blockchain in conjunction with 3D technology. This could apply to a scenario where a consumer purchased a jacket ten years ago, but a button has popped off.

Using the stored information on the blockchain, a brand could reprint that button even though it no longer produces that item anymore.

But, Burbidge also highlighted some issues with blockchain.

She said there may be problems with QR codes which are printed on care labels, as they my deteriorate after a few washes.

Additionally, the NFCs are expensive which she predicts may make brands less willing to use them. NFC’s may also have environmental impacts, because the chip could make an item of clothing harder to recycle.

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