Karen Artz Ash, national co-head of Katten Muchin Rosenman's intellectual property practice, has attended New York fashion week shows for the past nine years. You won't see many other lawyers at the invitation-only events, she said, noting, "It's not something that attorneys typically attend."
Ash said she wanted to be a fashion designer when she was very young, but she became interested in the law after her grandfather was killed in a construction accident and she observed a subsequent trial in a wrongful death case.
Ash, 55, is now a member of Katten's executive committee and chairs its pro bono committee. Focusing on fashion law, she has represented clients such as high-end designers Donna Karan, Elie Tahari, Han Feng, Marchesa, Haute Hippie and Alice & Olivia; apparel company Warnaco Group; teen retailer and designer Aeropostale; and discount apparel retailers Filene's Basement and Loehmann's.
Meanwhile, she just finished contributing to a fashion textbook for lawyers and a book for fashion designers; she is a contributor to fashion trade journal Women's Wear Daily; and she writes monthly columns on fashion licensing issues and trademark topics for other publications. Every year, as an adjunct professor at New York Law School, she teaches a class of about 20 students on IP licensing issues in the fashion field. The class field trip? A visit to Bloomingdale's.
Q: Describe the practice of fashion law.
A: Fashion law is an amalgam of several different practice areas. At the heart is intellectual property. This consists of proprietary rights vested in intangible assets, such as clients' trademark or brand, their unique trade dress, copyrighted fabric designs, design patents, utility patents, distinctive product trim or configurations (which may encompass one or more of the foregoing areas of intellectual property) and personalities (such as designers) associated with the company, brand or products.
Certainly, as fashion law contemplates the exploitation of intellectual property rights, another area of expertise is corporate law. A fashion lawyer should be conversant with general concepts of corporate law, including contract interpretation and enforcement, as well as the types of representations and warranties that would be appropriate for the parties to a fashion contract. The types of contracts that such area of the law generates include license and distribution agreements, manufacturing and sourcing agreements, agency and sales commission agreements, and assignment documentation, among others.
In addition, as the intangible assets of a fashion company are often the most valuable, these assets are used to secure financing. Accordingly, financing entities, such as banks or other equity investors, seek to obtain security interests in the intellectual property assets. An effective fashion lawyer should understand how to negotiate and conclude such arrangements, including the mechanics necessary to support perfection of security interests.
In the context of all of the above, it is important that a fashion lawyer understand and is able to address and identify bankruptcy risks associated with contracts.
Finally, it is important that an attorney engaged in the practice of advising fashion clients also understand and, at a minimum, be able to identify possible antitrust issues.
In short, the services provided by a fashion lawyer encompass many disciplines, perhaps initially rooted in a basic understanding of intellectual property law.
Q: What are some of the IP issues you handle most frequently?
A: Our practice runs the full gamut, working closely with our clients on:
the selection, searching, clearance and registration of names/marks and copyrighted material, both domestically and internationally;