Fashion, Cosmetics and Luxury Goods Team of the Year: Superdry
Established just 15 years ago, Superdry has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become one of the world’s best-known fashion brands. Thanks to the efforts of its seven-person brand rights team (largely based in the company’s UK headquarters), its IP portfolio has also developed rapidly in recent years and continues to grow with the business – now boasting roughly 2,000 registered trademarks and 500 registered design rights worldwide.
Given this speedy evolution, it has been crucial for the IP team to maintain clear insight into the company’s developing business strategy with regard to new markets and product lines. “This enables us to plan and not be blindsided,” observes senior IP counsel James Sweeting. The expansion of the brand from its core fashion market into the lifestyle sector, its growing popularity in jurisdictions around the world and the company’s entry into more licensing agreements are among the key trends that have shaped the team’s prosecution efforts.
“We’re doing things like watches, fitness trackers, spectacles, sunglasses and cosmetics,” explains Sweeting. “From an IP perspective, it’s fundamental to ensure that we put the correct rights in place to allow this to run as smoothly and as globally as possible. From a business perspective, we also need to make sure that we enter into relationships with the right partners of the rights terms to make sure that consumers of the brand continue to trust our products across the board.”
This has meant acquiring a large number of new rights, especially in new or emerging markets, where the team has had to overcome absolute grounds objections with regard to new trademark registrations. However, in registering new design rights, the team has been more selective. Sweeting elaborates: “We produce several thousand designs each year and sell to around 180 countries. That makes registering designs everywhere almost impossible for a team and a business of our size. We will register really innovative and technical aspects of a product, as well as designs for ‘hero’ products which have a longer shelf-life.”
Protecting Superdry’s innovations depends partly on “a patchwork of unregistered rights”, he continues. “EU unregistered design rights are a powerful tool for fashion businesses because of the breadth and term of the right from first disclosure, and we’ve had good success deploying unfair competition arguments in places like Germany and France.”
The company’s enforcement approach has also remained nimble. “Rapid brand growth has led to an inevitable swell of demand for copycat and counterfeit products,” states Sweeting. “We now have to manage a swell of supply in a proportionate way on a significant global scale.”
While three of its brand rights professionals focus exclusively on anti-counterfeiting and supply-chain issues, the Superdry team also leans heavily on external counsel around the globe in order to enforce its marks. “We always appreciate robust advice on the merits but also a sensible and proportionate view on enforcement measures,” remarks Sweeting, who reiterates the importance of evidence and preparedness. “We love it when our outside counsel give us very clear guidance on evidential standards and volumes of evidence as this varies hugely from country to country. If we get the right guidance, we usually get the right result.”
Whether acquiring or enforcing rights, having the relevant evidence organised and prepared is key. Sweeting believes that Superdry has an edge in this respect: “It’s important to be prepared and to understand how to access relevant evidence quickly and effectively. We are quite fortunate in this regard. Being a young business means we don’t have a huge tail of historic and inaccessible information. Many things are digitised and freely available to us through ever-improving technology and product management systems.”
But Sweeting insists that when it comes to explaining the success of Superdry’s brand rights, the enthusiasm of the team and management’s understanding of the importance of intellectual property is even more important: “It’s great to work somewhere where our stakeholders see us as people who enable them to push the boundaries and work freely rather than ‘blockers’.”