Presenting at an International Trademark Association (INTA) conference in New Orleans on branding this week, attendee trademark professionals are challenged to consider fundamental issues facing brand owners and designers, such as: "What are you selling and who is your market?" To illustrate the point that goodwill is the foundation of great human relationships and great brands, the audience is requested to remember their favourite article of clothing.

My recollection is of a shiny, red leather purse given to me by my mother at the age of 3. The purse symbolized my evolution from toddler to "young lady." A purse connects the person's inside self-image with their outside image, and is a critical element of one's personal brand.

Purse designers incorporate motifs — such as geometric shapes — that are functional and/or aesthetic. These motifs are often generally within the common vocabulary of designers. As a result, a copy is not necessarily a counterfeit, nor an infringement. The ability to draw on the toolkit of idioms, such as geometric shapes, without likelihood of confusion or fear of litigation is of interest to designers, manufacturers and retailers.

Shape is a prominent feature. Strategies for commercialization and protection of shape as a brand element take into account aesthetics, form and function. A multifaceted approach to protection exponentially increases commercial value of the purse and the design components, because of the potential to secure and protect overlapping intellectual property rights.

A geometric shape an idiom that is within the public domain on its own can be used effectively as a brand component, which becomes proprietary. For example. Liebeskind (the purse designer cum architect) and other architects play with shape to frame their individually identifiable construction.

Strolling down Bloor Street in Toronto's mink mile, passing the Royal Ontario Museum, we observe the renovated extension that was commissioned from the world-renowned Toronto-based architect Frank Gehry. The towering triangular appendage hovers over the sidewalk, extending from its more traditional predecessor, a bold geometric branding statement, signifying the museum's vision.

Geometric shapes feature prominently as elements of textile design, from dresses to accessories.

Silk scarves at the Hermes boutique on Bloor display rectangular graphic elements of artwork hanging in the shop windows. The background stories and knowledge that each scarf denotes are written up in a monograph that comes with the scarf, along with instructions for the wearer, bound in Hermes' branded orange cover.

Rectangular-shaped patterns may represent quality and when presented in two dimensions (e.g., associated with Kate Spade and Miu Miu) on handbag panels for visual, aesthetic appeal.

When these patterns are presented on handbag panels in three dimensions (e.g., on the Bao Bao), they can also signify functionality of the design feature. Designer Issey Miyake enjoys popularity in Palo Alto and beyond, partially attributable to having designed Steve Jobs' black tops. Jobs, the designer's design guru, is reported to have received hundreds of black T- shirts from Miyake.

Perhaps with a nod to Miyake's signature black T-shirt. Randi Zuckerberg's mom was spotted at a hotel on Bloor Street across from the ROM, carrying a Bao Bao Issey Miyake tote bag. The event was, appropriately, a charitable function in support of young entrepreneurship and innovation. From the bag design, fascination with technology, pleats and origami may be inferred. A trademark application has been filed in Canada by Miyake Design Studio of Japan.

Functionally, the rectangular design features of the Bao Bao bag are connected such that the shapes can be pushed and pressured by a user to pivot and change overall shape depending on the bag's stuffing. The simplicity of a Bao Bao handbag is characterized by a recurring array of triangles forming rectangles that, in the hands of the wearer, become building blocks that reshape the bag from two to three dimensions.

The use of rectangles to construct a purse has occurred in the past.

Examples on the Canadian Patent and Industrial Design databases at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website show, respectively, entries for a folding coin purse and method of making same; several alternative constructions for a folding coin purse with collapsible walls, which can be mostly made of upholstery materials, reinforced leather or cloth; a "closed hexagon octagon container — a change purse whereby pushing the sides together forms an opening in the purse for insertion of coins.

The Bao Bao bag also takes on a different shape depending on what's in it. The wearer can display a different fashion statement each day.

When empty, the bag looks flat when the mouth is closed. Rectangles of different dimensions can be formed all along the front and back panels, varying the shape of the overall purse by depositing different sized items within.

The question is what makes the connections between the rectangular shapes of the Bao Bao bag novel and useful (patentable?), aesthetic (copyright?) or recognizable as different from all other rectangular designs (trademark?).

From the Royal Ontario Museum's Gehry addition, to scarves in the window of the Hermes store bearing a copyright notice, to the innovative angular designs in two or three dimensions that dictate the shape of a purse, the use and reuse of geometric motifs generate value. Despite access to common inspiration, or reuse of fashion motifs within the public domain, the end product designed may still be be novel, useful and/or aesthetic and proprietary.

As trends circulate, "plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose" "the more it changes, the more it's the same thing." The use of geometric shapes affirms that the potential for overlap of intellectual property rights is "squarely" in the balance.