You have worked tremendously hard to start and grow your small business. As such, your existing and potential customers may be able to identify your product or service just by looking at your name or logo. To protect your ownership interest, you probably want to register your trademark. Safeguarding your company, though, is about more than simply trademarking a logo.

The purpose of trademark law is to minimize consumer confusion. That is, if a company uses brand identifiers, a trademark prevents other organizations from misappropriating them. While comparable names and logos certainly may contribute to consumer confusion, products that look similar may also confuse consumers. For that reason, you should not forget about trade dress when safeguarding your organization’s intellectual property. 

Understanding trade dress 

By now, everyone knows that Starbucks coffee comes in a white cup with a green symbol on the side. That was not always the case, though. On the contrary, the company had to invest significant resources in marketing and other efforts for customers to readily link the cup’s appearance to the product. The visual characteristics that comprise a company’s or product’s appearance are its trade dress.

Protecting trade dress 

If your organization consistently uses specific trade dress in its packaging, advertising or presentation, you likely have an ownership interest in it. Still, registering trade dress with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is an effective way to alert competitors of your exclusive ownership to the intellectual property you have developed. To register trade dress, the dress must be both distinctive and nonfunctional.

As a small business owner, you must constantly come up with innovative ways to attract new customers and retain existing ones. If you have developed a unique trade dress, you do not want competitors to use it to their advantage. By knowing how to protect your company’s physical appearance, you minimize consumer confusion and ensure that your company gets the most out of its promotional efforts.