Trade dress, like a trademark, serves to identify and distinguish sources of goods and services from each other. Trade dress encompasses non-functional aspects of physical objects such as packaging design,[i] overall product line designs,[ii] and even building designs[iii] or restaurant décor.[iv] Trade dress can be pretty straightforward but still be distinctive and recognizable to the general public, with the red wax on a Maker's Mark whiskey bottle being an example. While trade dress is protectable under federal and common law regarding trademarks, most businesses tend to focus on protecting their trademarks and brand names/logos and focus less on their trade dress, sometimes to their detriment.
Trademarks, trade dress, and design patents are each exclusionary intellectual property rights that protect non-functional aspects of an owner’s business operations and product lines by giving the owner legal rights to prevent others from using them. While each of these routes to protect an owner’s intellectual property is somewhat similar and overlapping, differences exist. Each intellectual property right will be discussed below and then compared and contrasted with the other. This topic will be divided into several blog entries with part I introducing trademarks and providing a little history.