The apparel industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by demand for convenience and rise of data analytics and e-commerce and the growing importance of technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality. In the last three years alone, there have been over 57,000 patents filed and granted in the apparel industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in apparel: wearable computers. Buy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

20+ innovations will shape the apparel industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the apparel industry using innovation intensity models built on over 36,000 patents, there are 20+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, insulated composite fabrics, and reflective fabrics are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. e-textiles, personalized lookbooks, and AR-assisted measurements are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are functional undergarments and breathable fabrics, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the apparel industry

Wearable computers are a key innovation area in apparel

Wearable computers are electronic devices that are small and lightweight. These devices can collect, process data and send feedback wirelessly, and have evolved to be incorporated into clothing, accessories and jewelry.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established apparel companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of wearable computers.

Key players in wearable computers – a disruptive innovation in the apparel industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to wearable computers

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NIKE 264 Unlock Company Profile
Levi Strauss 57 Unlock Company Profile
Gunze 54 Unlock Company Profile
Apple 27 Unlock Company Profile
Sony Group 23 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 12 Unlock Company Profile
Microsoft 9 Unlock Company Profile
Shenzhen Royole Technologies 9 Unlock Company Profile
Immersion 8 Unlock Company Profile
Samsung Group 6 Unlock Company Profile
Hewlett Packard Enterprise 4 Unlock Company Profile
Brilliant Sole 2 Unlock Company Profile
Polyera 2 Unlock Company Profile
Salutron 1 Unlock Company Profile
Medibotics 1 Unlock Company Profile
HP 1 Unlock Company Profile
Royole 1 Unlock Company Profile
Flexterra 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Nike is one of the leading patent filers in wearable computers. Some other key patent filers in the space include Levi Strauss and Gunze.

The Trucker Jacket by Levi’s is integrated with JACQUARD™ by Google, a wireless technology that provides seamless connectivity to a wearer’s smartphone. Incorporated with a sensor on the left sleeve, the jacket is designed to allow the wearer to control the paired device with simple gestures.

In terms of application diversity, Nike leads the pack, while Samsung and Salutron stood in the second and third positions, respectively.

By means of geographic reach, Sony held the top position, followed by Nike and Levi Strauss.

As technology continues to evolve, and consumers lead more active lifestyles, there will be demand for integration of wearable technologies into activewear, sportswear and other performance clothing, accessories, and jewelry.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the apparel industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Apparel

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.