Patent fight busts out over strapless bra

Susan Scafidi in News & Insight, May 20, 2011

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NEW YORK, May 20 (Reuters) - A California brassiere company has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles claiming that a retail chain's Belle Bra infringes on patents associated with its "strapless and backless" NuBra.

The company, Bragel, said it owns the rights to what the garment industry calls "silicon stickies," which were first marketed as a breast enhancement product and then later gained favor with women seeking a discreet undergarment to wear with evening gowns. Bragel advertises NuBra as two attached self-adhesive cups with "front closure for cleavage and lift."

In its suit, filed on Thursday, Bragel said retailer Love Culture's Belle Bra is an identical copy of NuBra. An attorney for Love Culture said it had yet to be notified of the lawsuit.

The dispute between Bragel and Love Culture is only the latest in a series of patent disputes over brassieres. A Milwaukee woman who created a bra with a pocket filed an infringement suit against a rival last month. Meanwhile, Victoria's Secret has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with a woman who says the company stole her idea for its "100-way" bra.

"There has been a series of patents regarding ladies' undergarments going back to the 19th century, including hoop skirts, girdles and corsets" said Susan Scafidi, who teaches fashion law at Fordham Law School.

Ordinarily, clothes do not qualify for patent protection, but bras are an exception because they have a functional role that is the subject of mechanical inventions, Scafidi said.

Susan Nethero, the founder of the Intimacy chain of boutiques, who styles herself "The Bra Whisperer," said Bragel bras sell well at her stores. "They're a popular option for a special occasion where women need a strapless bra."