Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for innovation

Design Patents & the Future of Fashion


I had to attend the Struktur conference vicariously this year, but I had the great fortune of attending this creative summit for active, outdoor and urban design last year. The organizers had approached me because of my talk on the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry. It turned out that the active wear industry was facing a potential sea change. The news was getting out that Lululemon was aggressively pursuing design patents for their designs, effectively installing barbed wire around previous open pasture in the design community. The Struktur community wanted to know: what the hell is a design patent, anyway, and should I be getting some of them, too?

Once I knew this, It took me about zero seconds to agree to give a talk on the topic (here’s the video). I’ve been impatiently monitoring the wearable technology sector for many years now, where I see a very exciting (and lucrative) future for apparel designers. One key reason: fashion designers may not have copyright protection – which means they don’t own their designs – but they are eligible for patent protection if they can inject some unique utility into their design.

I can’t believe how long it’s taken for high-end fashion designers to get into the wearable tech game. But slowly and surely, it’s finally happening. The wearable-electronics market reached $8 billion in sales in 2014, and is expected to hit $20 billion by 2017, according to research firm Futuresource Consulting. I expect the sector to explode once customers realize that they should be getting tremendous utility value with their clothes – not just cute looks.

Editorial about wearable tech tends to be pretty snarky, but even cynical reporters are starting to warm to the idea. Athos now offers workout capris that alert you to your workout targets and tell you whether you’re favoring one leg over the other, which can lead to injury and inadequate work outs.

Emel + Aris have created a luscious cashmere wrap that’s actually a toasty electric blanket. Iris Apfel, icon of all who hope to age in grand style, has developed WiseWear cuffs that can send a message to an emergency contact if you should get in trouble. And while I’m no fan of Ralph Lauren, the Ricky bag is kind of genius, with its built in phone charger and LED lights that switch on when you open the bag.

So all of these contraptions are eligible for utility patents, which cover inventions that are novel, useful and non-obvious. So what is a design patent? Read the rest of this entry »


Improv & Creativity at TEDxUSC

I’m really proud to be on the board of advisers for TEDxUSC, the site of the first TEDx in the world (there have been about 4,000 of them since). Videos from this year’s event are just starting to trickle out: Doug Thomas, a colleague of mine from the USC Annenberg School, gave a stand-out talk about the ways in which the academy can quash creativity in the classroom and fail to tap into the passionate interests of the students.

His talk resonated for me because of my involvement in a broad, university-wide initiative at USC to promote Creativity & Collaboration in the Academy. It’s easy to claim that we want to be innovative and to think out of the box, but interdisciplinary work is incredibly hard in institutions defined by disciplinary boundaries, and working in groups to solve complex problems can be more time-consuming and frustrating than working quietly on your own on a topic that safely falls within your realm of expertise. Students who are trained to memorize information by educators who teach to the test aren’t exactly being prepared for the messy world outside the academy, where most jobs require teamwork of some kind, and the problems that need to be solved don’t fit conveniently in any single knowledge silo.

Pro-skateboarder and entrepreneur Rodney Mullen gave a wonderfully humble talk that clearly addressed this year’s theme: spheres of influence. He compared the skateboarder community to software hackers: both groups regard themselves as outsiders, often operating on the fringes of the law (Rodney mentioned what a trip it was to be in a building on USC’s campus — he was always outside, or being escorted off). Their creativity and their drive to innovate are driven primarily by their commitment to a fiercely loyal (and competitive) peer group that feeds off each other’s exploits. Group members are relentless in their effort to make their mark, to be even more daring than the last daredevil. Although it may seem like a battle of egos, both communities have an underlying open-source sensibility, where sharing knowledge is essential to membership in the group and the possibility of innovating within it.

Without question, the most galvanizing performer this year was the ridiculously talented Reggie Watts. A musician, singer and stand-up comic, Watts never sings the same song or uses a set routine. His clever, poetic riffs on the talks and the theme of the event, which I can’t even imagine paraphrasing, helped knit together the entire event for me. And while I’m a huge fan of the carefully choreographed TED talk, it was a welcome relief to be wowed by the free-flowing freshness of a skilled improviser. It made me wonder how all of us might find a better way to balance the two in our own lives and work: as a teacher, for instance, how can you respond to the vagaries of interest and desire in a classroom, and still communicate, in a precise way, the essential methodologies and hard-earned knowledge that are worth transmitting across generations? How do you make en ejxperience fun and substantial? We should all try to get better at it.