Are Headphones a Fashion Accessory?

Beats manufactures distinctive headphone products in which it claims trade dress and design patent protection. The protection afforded under patent and trademark law can be broad, especially when used in combination. In a lawsuit against Yamaha on a variety of infringement and unfair trade claims, Beats’ complaint had an interesting allegation – that customers began wearing the earphones around their neck as a fashion accessory even when not listening to music. Images of the products at issue appear below, along with images from the Beats website.

Yamaha Beats Studio



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This case exemplifies excellent strategic use of design patents to bolster trade dress protection. Note how the Beats marketing exploited this pop-culture use by portraying the Beats headphones product on users who were not using the product at the time, rather, that it really was akin to a fashion accessory. Beats also incorporated color into its product line, emphasizing more than function and appealing to consumer sense of style. This was a well-crafted marketing campaign aimed at creating secondary meaning and trade dress protection. This is one for the textbooks.

An intellectual property strategy can provide excellent ROI. Design patent and trademark protection are affordable, typically less than $3,000 each. How much is preventing your competitor from copying worth?