What do all white boxes with black lettering from Apple, the blue boxes from Tiffany’s and Louboutin’s red-soled shoes all have in common?
They’re all part of the visual or aesthetic elements of the packaging or products, and they immediately convey “authenticity” to many consumers. This “trade dress” is incorporated into part of a product’s packaging or design in such a way that it is intentionally eye-catching and distinct, while not actually serving any necessary purpose.
Is trade dress really important?
By associating a trade dress with your products you can essentially enhance your brand and automatically signal their source. Done right, good trade dressing can help a product become increasingly familiar to consumers – and those who come to trust your brand may automatically transfer that trust to new products that they see you putting on the market.
Trade dress can include a wide variety of things, including:
- Shapes: The silhouette shape of a Coke bottle is one of the most well-known examples of a shape that is part of a brand’s identity, and the shape of a Hershey’s Kiss is another one.
- Design: Burberry clothing is widely recognized for its distinctive woven pattern, and whiskey lovers will immediately spot the red seal on a Maker’s Mark bottle.
- Colors: John Deere tractors are immediately spotted because of their distinctive yellow and green color and Mary Kay Cosmetics intentionally chose a soft pink for their packaging designs.
- Atmosphere: If you walk into an Apple store anywhere in the world, the odds are good it’ll feel just like the one nearest your house. The same goes for the inside of an Olive Garden or a Cracker Barrel.
It should be noted that trade dress cannot be part of the functional elements of the product (so that useful features can’t be monopolized unfairly). For example, the red color on the Louboutin shoes doesn’t improve the sole in any way, nor does the blue box from Tiffany’s affect the product inside.
Experienced legal guidance can help you explore your trade dress options and other intellectual property rights and put you on a trajectory for success.