Le Boudoir Numérique met Naïma Alahyane-Rogeon, last October, during a breakfast-debate, organized on the occasion of Fashion Tech Week Paris, in Lexing Alain Bensoussan Avocats offices, law firm specialized in digital law and advanced technologies. The lawyer, specialized in fashion technology, co-hosted a conference to provide an overview of emerging digital technologies in the textile field and to take stock of the legal perspectives available to fashion professionals. It did not take more for Le Boudoir Numérique to want to talk extensively with her about the fashion technology legal specificities, the protection of works and its legal framework ..., in short, if you want to launch a fashion tech product and have questions about the legal aspects, read this Naima Alahyane-Rogeon’s interview.
By Ludmilla Intravaia
Le Boudoir Numérique: What are we talking about, from a legal point of view, when we talk about fashion tech?
Naïma Alahyane-Rogeon, lawyer specialized in fashion technology: First of all, there is the family of connected objects, covering a large part of our everyday life. There is no legal definition of connected objects. So, we start from a technical approach to define them as any equipment, with sensors and connectivity systems, such as for example RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips, communicating through a network. Connected objects include connected clothes that interact with the environment, thus giving the garment a new function. In some cases, these connected clothes can collect health data to diagnose conditions such as epilepsy, for instance. They are then qualified as a medical device, subject to the Public Health Code regulations. Finally, if connected clothing collects personal data, such as biometric heart rate measurements for example, it is subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a law that came into force on May 25, 2018, which imposes new obligations for companies, in Europe. This european GDPR comes in addition to the french legislation, namely the 1978 Act on Information Technology, Data Files and Civil Liberties, which was modified last June 20th.
What is personal data?
Personal data can directly or indirectly identify an individual. Take the example of body scanners. The customer enters one of these cabins that will scan his body in 3D and take his measurements, to make him a customized clothing. These bodily measures, specific to this buyer, are associated with his user account, mentioning his full name, as well as his bank details, if he pays by credit card and address, if the suit is delivered to his house. All those informations are personal data. The use of personal data raises questions in terms of confidentiality and security of informations: Where are they stored? Are they transferred to third parties? The commercialization of this type of equipment collecting personal data implies for their creators new obligations, governed by the application of the GDPR.
What is the legal framework provided by the 1978 Act? How is it changed by the GDPR?
The 1978 Act is one of the first laws in Europe to protect people's data when used by third parties, companies, organizations, or even states. It allows a person to know when his data is collected, if this information is mentionned in a file and what is its nature. It gives the opportunity to request the data modification or its removal from the files. The GDPR has confirmed these points, while strengthening the protection, since it has increased the obligations of organizations collecting and exploiting data and the penalties. In case of non-compliance, they can now go up to 20 million euros and 4% of the global annual turnover.
Let’s imagine a designer, creating a fashion tech object. What should be his first instinct, from a legal point of view?
It is fundamental to protect the innovation, if you want to avoid your creation to be copied, without you having your word to say, because you did not think about it, upstream. As for all technological or artistic creations, a fashion technology designer must think carefully about the type of protection adapted to his innovation: should it be protected by secrecy, should he consider creating a trademark or filing a patent? This legal reflection work must be done before any exploitation and any disclosure to third parties. If you are starting to talk to prospective partners, to introduce them to your innovation, it may be important to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to the information exchange on the project.
One of the fashion tech characteristics is to be collaborative. What consequence results from it, from a legal point of view?
Indeed, many fashion tech works are based on the collaborative idea of their spreading and evolution on the web. That’s why, one have seen, for example, the development of Creative Commons licenses, by which the author informs the public of authorized and prohibited uses of his work. Again, there is a reflection to make on the type of license that you want to put in place for your work. The sliders can be placed at different levels. You can accept, for example, that your work is shared on the internet, that third parties can make changes on it, and in parallel, prohibit them from commercialising your work and make profits from it.
What’s the next step?
You must contractualize the relations between partners. One of the characteristics of fashion tech is to bring together actors who were not used to work together before. In the textile field, we will have a stylist who, instead of working in a traditional way, will get closer to a developer, an electronics professional, etc. to create together a fashion innovation. This joint work between interlocutors from different horizons requires the existence of a contract, as early as the innovation phase. The safety, indeed, in case of harm, for instance to the consumer, is to have a contract governing the relations between these people, in order to determine the obligations, rights and responsibilities of each. This is the case of partnership contracts, which are more and more common in fashion technology.
In conclusion, what last advice would you give to a young fashion tech designer who wants to launch its product on the market?
He must not neglect the protection of his technological innovation, even if, as in any creation, other aspects come into play, such as artistic or commercial development, for instance. This reflection on legal protection, and more generally on all legal aspects, must be integrated from the outset. It would be a pity to ignore this fundamental step, indispensable to the peaceful exploitation of his work.
* Naïma Alahyane-Rogeonis ambassador of the association La Fashion Tech, wich organise the event Fashion Tech Week Paris. To know more about the last edition of this event (from october 15th to 19th, 2018), read those Le Boudoir Numérique articles : “Fashion and tech communicate better” and “Fashion Tech Week Paris exhibition : What’s new?”.