At a recent visit to beautiful Barcelona, Spain, in conjunction with a law conference on branding, we were struck by architectural splendour on the one hand and perilous purse snatchers on the other. We clutched our handbags, eager to avoid the rogue, quick scissor snip to detach straps from clutch.

The risk of losing personal valuables contained within a purse — wallet, keys, phone, cosmetics, passport, etc. loomed as a particularly unwelcome aspect of an otherwise wonderful journey.

A handbag or clutch with straps is a metaphorical parachute. It contains mysterious contents, preferably secured to the wearer by a strong cord.

Today, designers continue to grapple with the functional challenges of securing one's sack of valuables, devising innovative solutions. The novelty and utility of such innovation can support patent protection.

The use of a chain to supplement the strength of a strap whether affixed to the bag separately, interrupting the link or woven through it offers both functionality and ornamentation. These two attributes attract different forms of intellectual property protection: functionality being the province of patent law, and ornamentation associated with industrial design patents, trademarks and copyright.

Reportedly inspired by the leather straps of soldiers, designer Coco Chanel hoisted the functional chain link to become a distinctive design element. This novel handbag and strap design registered to Chanel in the U.S. has expired (so as to be available for use by others without fear of infringement).

The manner in which ornamental/functional leather is threaded and stitched when woven through the chain helps consumers and law enforcers differentiate between the authentic, registered design and the fake or infringing copies. Intellectual property rights are not indefinite, and are generally outlasted by the increasingly robust market for resale vintage Chanel bags.

Reference to the information that has been recorded on the intellectual property registers is valuable in court proceedings before the rights expire, and to designers and consumers long afterward.

Our retail research led us to a number of different branded boutiques in which representatives enthusiastically expanded on the utility, versatility and aesthetics of this season's latest chain designs.

At Chanel, the latest "wallet on a strap" features a chain that is positioned across the inside of the bag's front flap to facilitate twisting, doubling it for evening wear and lengthening as a single strand for cross body during the day.

The chain is extra-long, presenting a new "twist" on designs like those featured in the expired Vuitton registration for the design elements of the extra-long chain:

At the Coach boutique, we were shown a bag featuring a wider version of the extra-long chain. The retail representative enthusiastically shared that consumers like to pull the extra-long chain from the single longer position to the shorter doubled position and vice versa, because of the sound of the slide.

Perhaps Coach's redo underscores the potential for another design element of differentiation, the "sound mark" that will be associated with the slide. We noted that sound marks are increasingly becoming markers of brand origin.

The chain theme carries on as ornamental trim quite apart from its handbag strap function, to display Dior and AMcQ (Alexander McQueen) trademarked designs, further reinforcing the trademark components of branding.

The merits of seeking exclusivity that is conferred by intellectual property registration are hotly debated. Some say exclusivity impedes incorporation of design elements that are idioms within the trade. Nevertheless, the usefulness of seeing the design register as a resource are indisputable.

The registers are a partial, online, searchable record of the sheer genius in play when function and aesthetics are hybridized. When the execution of design takes shape, the results positively gleam.

Strolling along the mink mile of Bloor Street in Toronto, shop windows shine as retailers "uncrate" metallic chains of all shapes and colours to showcase the stellar achievements of the fashion sector.