From the idea of product design, who wouldn’t want to protect more of their products? A producer should be able to profit off the sweat of labor, and creativity that they have mustered to bring the product. Yet, if a design brings utility, then the individual that comes up with it may have a monopoly over the most effective design, which hampers competition. These are the issues that the United States Supreme Court recently considered in Star Athletica v. Varsity, as Justice Sotomayor phrased as “killing knockoffs” with copyright protection. The case involved two parties, Star Athletica and Varsity, both producers of cheerleading uniforms. Varsity sued Star Athletica for copyright infringement of protected designs over a dress. Still, there were various issues to be resolved. What is useful? What is protected by copyright laws? Would it matter if even after the creative elements were removed, there was nothing useful about the article at all?
In this case, the main issue was effectively based in the idea of useful articles. In copyright, there is a thinner protection for “useful” things, protecting only what is creative rather than the useful parts of it. In essence, it had to be “separable” either conceptually or physically. This generally meant to be “truly” separable, it would have to be both. Relating to the cheerleading uniforms, it presented a unique issue. The major question however, was if the designs on the dress (i.e., the chevrons, colors, general look) were protectable. Presumably, either the designs on the dress were protectable, as they could be reproduced and placed on some other object, like a lunchbox, or they were unprotectable, as they were intertwined with the functionality of a cheerleader’s uniform.