Trade dress is a subcategory of trademark law that refers to the overall image (look and feel) of a product or service that identifies its source and distinguishes it from those of others. Trade dress protection applies to product packaging, design, or configuration of goods. For services, trade dress applies to the “total visual image” such as a restaurant’s décor, menu, layout, and style of service. A company’s trade dress can be extremely valuable by distinguishing its goods and services from competitors and attracting customers to its brand.
Trade dress protection can be achieved through use or through federal registration. Although registration is not required for legal trade dress protection, trade dress registration offers several advantages. However, trade dress registration can be challenging because of stringent requirements. The trade dress must be both distinctive (i.e., recognizable to consumers as source identifying) and nonfunctional (i.e., not be essential to the use or purpose of the product or service and not affect the cost or quality of the product or service).