IP Law and Fashion Week: Is Canada Un-Fashionably Late?

IP Law and Fashion Week: Is Canada Un-Fashionably Late?

Ashlee Froese is an Osgoode Hall alumnus and currently practices intellectual property at the law firm of Keyser Mason Ball LLP.

As any Fashionista will know, over the last two weeks Toronto has been shining bright with visions of sequins and metallics.  Of course, I am talking about Rogue Fashion Week and LG’s Fashion Week.  But does Canada create a strong platform for these designers?  This article is the first in a series that will comparatively look at Canada’s legal and financial treatment of the fashion industry to determine whether it is adequately protected.

I had the great fortune to attend a number of the events and shows at Rogue Fashion Week and LG’s Fashion Week.  Two themes were constant: the creative ingenuity was breath-taking and the enthusiasm of these young designers was infectious.

Fierceness and fabulousness aside, the fashion industry is a serious (and lucrative) business.  It is estimated that the fashion industry generates $500 million for Ontario annually.  In fact, Toronto is home to the third largest design workforce in North America.  However, Ontario has refused to recognize the fashion business as a cultural industry thereby making fashion designers ineligible to receive any arts grants and/or funding.  For the emerging designer, such financial assistance can be critical to growing the business.  Conversely, the Quebec government has significantly invested in Montreal’s fashion industry.  For example, two years ago it earmarked $82 million to develop and internationally promote Montreal’s fashion industry.  Moreover in Quebec, fashion also qualifies for arts and cultural funding, which has seen immediate benefits.  Once the fashion industry was eligible for cultural grants, employment in the fashion industry doubled in less than a year.  Advocates within the fashion industry (such as the Fashion Design Council of Canada and the Canadian Apparel Federation) note that Quebec’s preferential treatment is benefiting the Montreal design community, much to the detriment of the Ontario design community.

If we can see the detrimental effects that varying policies can have on the design communities within Canada, how does Canada as a whole fare internationally and what are the implications for Canada?  The Office of the United States Trade Representative recently released its 2011 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, wherein it examines obstacles within Canada that negatively affect the US’s willingness to trade with Canada.  In 2010, Canada did not fare well.  Canada was listed on the Priority Watch List because of its failure, in part, to implement copyright reform and bolster customs border enforcement practices.  Once again in 2011, the US continues to urge Canada to address these issues.  Although the fashion industry was not specifically cited as a concern in this report, it is clear that upon global comparison, Canada is coming up short, which in the long term can be detrimental to the growth of Canada’s fashion industry. 

It is not surprising that in countries where the fashion industry is a major contributor to the economy, the domestic intellectual property laws facilitate adequate protection of fashion designs.  France and Italy are examples of countries that have instituted laws that explicitly protect fashion designs.  The United States is currently attempting to reform its copyright laws to offer protection specific to fashion designs.  In Canada, however, the fashion designer has to meander through a myriad of intellectual property laws to garner protection, although none that are specific to the entire fashion piece.  Canada’s fashion industry has the potential to be a big player in the international arena, but with designers such as D Squared moving abroad, is Canada really supportive of its designers, thereby enticing them to stay in Canada?

Upcoming articles in this series will examine how Canada’s intellectual property laws can support fashion designers, how some countries have firmly established intellectual property laws that are specific to the fashion industry and will look at the US’s attempts to reform its copyright laws to encompass protection for the fashion industry.