Attracting and retaining customers in an increasingly crowded marketplace can take a significant amount of time, money and effort. Part of the equation is coming up with a distinct look and feel for your business. After all, you want your customers to be able to identify your venture as quickly and easily as possible.
If you have a retail outlet, restaurant, entertainment venue or another similar type of business, your company’s decor makes you stand out from the crowd. To prevent your competitors from stealing your aesthetic, it makes sense to obtain a trademark for your trade dress.
What is trade dress?
Trade dress is a subset of trademark law that allows business owners to secure exclusive ownership of everything that gives their product or service its commercial look and feel. For example, your company’s trade dress may be a specific color, unique packaging, or perhaps even store arrangement.
How can you protect your company’s trade dress?
If your trade dress is distinctive and nonfunctional, you likely can apply for trademark protection. This protection preserves your customers’ ability to recognize your product or service by preventing others from using your scheme. If a competitor employs similar decor that may lead to customer confusion, you can bring an action for trademark infringement.
What does the phrase, “distinctive and nonfunctional,” mean?
It typically is not possible to pursue trade dress protection for generic decor. To qualify for trademark protection, your trade dress must be different than that of other businesses. As the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure notes, it also must not serve a primary purpose for your product or service. For example, while you probably cannot secure a trademark for an ordinary package, it may be possible to protect a unique package shape.
Ultimately, to ensure you receive the full benefit of your company’s design efforts, it is advisable to seek official recognition of your trade dress.