Although popular amongst hipsters and those looking for the latest trends in apparel, accessories, and housewares, Urban Outfitters does not typically trend on Twitter. However, last week “Urban” was the talk of cybertown after  independent designer Stevie Koerner of Chicago accused them of knocking off her jewelry line, calling it “not cool.” Both lines of jewelry featured shapes of different states with heart-shaped cutouts, and they looked eerily similar. Urban has since taken down the link to the jewelry. Even Miley Cyrus spoke out angrily against Urban, claiming that counterfeiting is a run-of-the-mill practice for them. IP attorney Oscar Michelen opined that Koerner would not really have a claim here, since no one can really patent or trademark the shape of the United States with a heart cut out of it. Koerner has decided not to bring legal action, and instead has experienced positive publicity as a result of the incident.

Alas, design infringement claims are quite common in the fashion business, and the United States does not protect fashion designs legally. Instead, ever-evolving trend cycles spur innovation within the industry, and part of being a designer is keeping ahead of the game before someone else swoops in with the resources to make the same product much more cheaply and quickly. Although many proposals have been made to protect fashion designs legislatively, the industry seems to do just fine without the aid of legal sanctions. When it comes to clothing, it has pretty much all been done before, so designers need the ability to copy each other in order to keep producing. On the other hand, exact copying is much more unfair than reinventing a trend  (see Zara or H&M), and Urban should know better.

– Caroline Fleming

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