Many components go into running a successful business. Not only do you have an in-demand product or service, but you also have an established company logo and slogan. While you may have taken steps to trademark this intellectual property, you should not forget about your company’s trade dress.
Trade dress is simply the total picture of a product or service, including how you package and market what you sell. While the shape, color and design of your packaging is probably trade dress, your business’s décor or layout may also be part of its protectable dressing. Your company’s trade dress is essential for attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
The risk of consumer confusion
You have likely devoted a significant amount of time, energy and financial resources into achieving the right look for your company’s product or service. If you do not protect your trade dress, a competitor or startup may commandeer your hard work. That is, another business may copy your trade dress and confuse consumers. If consumers cannot tell the difference, they may buy what they need from someone else, causing your company to lose valuable sales.
Federal trade dress protection
Similar to your company’s trademark, you can seek federal registration of your trade dress. If your trade dress is inherently distinctive, the process is straightforward. For less distinctive dress, you typically must demonstrate that consumers have associated a secondary meaning with it. That is, consumers must identify aspects of the trade dress with your business venture.
One major exception
While it is possible to seek federal trademark registration for many types of trade dress, there is an exception. Specifically, you cannot protect trade dress that is purely functional. For example, if you bottle soda in an ordinary container, you likely cannot trademark the bottle’s design. On the other hand, if your bottle has a unique shape, federal trade dress protection may be available.
By seeking federal trademark registration for your trade dress, you ensure your company receives full benefit from it.