Questions and Answers with Karen Artz Ash – Intellectual Property
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[Fabric and Foundation of
Tell us about your practice and your day-to-day legal work
My main goal is to ensure that I am a knowledgeable and common sense resource to my clients on all matters affecting their brands and the businesses based on those brands. I represent a range of global fashion and beauty brands. I help these companies to do everything possible to protect and enforce their names and other property rights, prepare and disseminate promotional and support material that respects the integrity of the rights of third parties and, among other things, develop and negotiate comprehensive agreements covering manufacturing, licensing, advertising, distribution, sponsorship, co-branding, collaborations, campaigns and just about any form of arrangement that exploits a company’s intellectual property.
After more than 30 years of practice, what are the most spectacular changes that you have observed?
Certainly the biggest change has been how quickly things are moving. Everything now requires immediate action, a comment, a response to the minute. We have, in general, become an “on demand” society. This makes it harder for businesses to make sure they’re always doing the right thing, and it makes it more expensive for them to do business in general. The creative process is fast and furious. Products and styles should be developed, purchased and marketed within a very short timeframe. From a legal standpoint, this requires the ability to develop appropriate documentation, often with little time. This ultimately requires that lawyers and in-house staff are prepared with appropriate models and resources, and that their underlying intellectual property (eg, brand portfolios) is in good repair.
On a somewhat different note, one of the really good things that I have seen over time is how companies are socially conscious, rallying together to support worthy causes such as protecting civil liberties, supporting social justice, promoting diversity, protecting LGBTQ rights, and recognizing the need for suitable clothing for the physically disabled. Social media has played an important role in creating a forum for businesses to promote and support the common good.
Advertising has also changed a lot. Advertising in conventional magazines is only a small part of how fashion brands promote themselves and their products. They use influencers, develop social media campaigns and showcase their products and trends on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Things change almost every hour.
[Evolution of Fashion
You have helped shape the operation of a fashion law firm. Can you talk about the evolution of the practice area?
I know we all talk about “fashion law” as a discipline in its own right. In fact, I teach a law course at New York Law School on licensing in the fashion industry, and have contributed to several books under the title “Fashion Law”. But, the reality is that the term really only reflects knowledge of a single (and incredibly diverse) industry, and then the application of individual disciplines to that knowledge. For example, I am first and foremost a lawyer in Intellectual Property. But, by understanding and learning how fashion companies and the industry work at large, I apply my skills to the breadth of issues these companies might face. It also means that my practice has broadened to accommodate other areas of knowledge, such as bankruptcy, banking, antitrust laws and being able to recognize all of these issues. So “fashion law” is really just a knowledge base devoted to a particular industry. It is now a recognized discipline only because the industry has grown so much, has become so sophisticated, and forms such a large part of the global economy.
[Today in Fashion &
Given the whirlwind of activity, pre and mid-pandemic, what is your overall assessment of the state of fashion and the law?
The past 18 months have been both so stimulating and so educational. I have seen businesses come to a screeching halt and implode, seemingly overnight; magnificent closed shops; and so many people no longer needed to dress up. We were (and perhaps still are) overwhelmed by just getting through the day, staying healthy, and protecting our families. Everything else seemed almost silly.
But the reality is that the fashion industry supports city and suburban life, is a necessary part of our real estate industry, and offers enormous employment opportunities. The inability of the fashion industry to thrive has a domino effect. Just walking around New York City over the past year and seeing the large number of abandoned storefronts has underscored the clear interrelationship between the fashion industry, the economy, and our daily lives. .
The industry has had to adapt, as we have all had to change. In the end, I think it will be a good thing. There is a real appreciation of individual needs, as well as a burst of creativity. A door has opened on new, less traditional approaches. We see it with different kinds of designers coming into the picture, embracing creative elements and prioritizing the important things in life. People are adopting a new individuality when it comes to the way they dress. I have no doubts that we are all doing better.
What has changed for you during the pandemic in the way you work, play and serve others?
I have been working remotely for 18 months. I start each day by taking a dance class with my husband (we do Latin dance in a ballroom studio). We then have a coffee together, then start our working day in separate rooms. The physicality and joy of dancing makes me feel ready to face the day. (Recently my adult daughters and their husbands have also started dancing.) The movement is subtle but strong and precise – sometimes requiring adjustments here and there to accommodate the things around you. This is how I face each day with the same skills.
The pandemic has brought to light the difficulties so many others face, when they lack opportunities or support, do not have equal access to resources, medical care or employment. While I have always been dedicated to volunteer work (and chair the NY Pro Bono committee in Katten), my role as chairman of the Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) organization has been particularly rewarding this. year. We have done so much to support those disproportionately affected by circumstances beyond their control; and advocacy for the common good and for society as a whole really put everything into perspective.
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