Trade Dress Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Trade Dress, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Trade Dress?

A product’s unique packaging that uniquely identifies that product. For example: the bottle for Ms. Butterworth’s pancake syrup bottle is shaped like the brand’s namesake. Trade dress can be trademarked.

History and Meaning of Trade Dress

Trade dress is a legal term that refers to the unique packaging or appearance of a product that distinguishes it from others in the market. Trade dress includes a combination of elements such as color, shape, size, graphics, and other visual features. It is considered to be a part of a company's intellectual property and can be protected by trademark law.

The term "trade dress" first appeared in legal usage in the 1940s, in a case involving the design of a soft drink bottle. Over the years, the scope of trade dress protection has expanded to cover not only product packaging but also store designs, website layouts, and other forms of visual branding.

To be considered protectable trade dress, a product's packaging and appearance must be distinctive and non-functional. In other words, trade dress protection is not available for features of a product that serve a utilitarian function.

Examples of Trade Dress

  1. Coca-Cola Bottle - The unique contoured shape of Coca-Cola's bottle is considered to be trade dress and is protected under trademark law.

  2. Tiffany & Co. Blue Box - The distinctive blue color and white ribbon of Tiffany & Co. packaging is a famous example of trade dress.

  3. iPhone - The design elements of an iPhone, such as the shape of the device and its graphical user interface, are considered to be protected under trade dress.

Legal Terms Similar to Trade Dress

  1. Trademark - A trademark is any symbol, word, or design used to distinguish the goods or services of one company from those of another.

  2. Patent - A patent is a form of intellectual property protection that gives an inventor the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, and selling an invention for a certain period of time.

  3. Copyright - Copyright protection covers artistic works, such as music, literature, and visual art, and gives the creator of the work exclusive rights to its use and distribution.