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What is a Trade Dress?

The look and appearance of a product.

Can you recognize the McDonald’s fry cup or the coca-cola bottle?  Well, U.S. Trademark law allows companies and product manufacturers to distinguish their products from potential competitors through trade dress protection. Owning a trade dress allows the owner to block others from copying the various product shapes of a particular company. Under the U.S Lanham Act, Trade Dress protects the look and appearance of a product manufactured by a company. While a trademark protects the logo, design and name of a particular product, a trade dress protects a particular product’s shape, design, look or it’s packaging form from its infringement. Trade dress allows the public to know about the origin of the product they are consuming or buying without any help from outsiders. It is a powerful tool that companies often use to market and promote their product to the public. 

What are the requirements for a trade dress registration?

To be applicable for a trade dress registration, there are certain requirements to meet such as:

  • Proof that the design or look of a particular product has acquired a secondary meaning.
  • Ensure that the entire appearance, look or design of a particular product has acquired distinctiveness.
  • Ensure that the trade dress is not “functional” at the time of application to the USPTO Office.
  • Ensure that the element of design is included in the application for trade dress registration.

In the case of Walmart Stores v. Samara Bros Inc, Samara had some children’s clothes decorated with appliques and marketed those clothes in the United States. Walmart took pictures of that clothes and told their suppliers to produce the same. Samara sued Walmart by alleging that Walmart had infringed Samara’s trade dress under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. The Court ruled out in favour of Walmart by stating that trade dress should be classified as a product design that has acquired secondary meaning to be entitled to the trade dress protection. Hence, to protect the overall look of a product it is recommended to file and register for a trade dress registration. Trade dress can be registered by applying for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).


Trade dress protections helps companies to provide a unique shape or look into their new or existing products. The usage of trade dress allows the consumers to identify and recognize the particular product because the trade dress has acquired secondary meaning and is distinctive.  Moreover, the infringement of any such trade dress can be prevented by taking legal actions against the individual or a company that has been infringed. However, it is often seen as difficult to prove that a particular trade dress is infringed especially in the case of website trade dresses.  To be able to sue in the first place, you need a trade dress registration in hand.

Let Karana IP get you from application ™ to registration ®.

If you have a new brand to protect, Karana IP has the ability to help you choose, protect, and enforce trademarks under state and federal law. Contact Karana IP Law, LLC, today if you have questions about the selection, registration, protection, or enforcement of your mark.

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