Apple has developed a strong reputation in the electronics industry, and consumers know they will get a certain quality product with Apple products. As such, consumers will continue to buy products simply because they come from Apple. A design protected by trade dress has associated value by serving as an indicator of a particular quality product coming from a particular source, influencing purchasers to buy it.
A trade dress owner can prevent others from producing products with designs that are likely to cause consumer confusion. Likelihood of confusion exists when another’s product design or packaging is so similar and the goods and/or services for which they are used are so related that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source. See TMEP § 1207.01.
For a design to be protected by trade dress, the public must associate the design with a source or producer of goods or services, rather than just the product itself. A product design is not capable of functioning as a trademark without a showing of secondary meaning, i.e., that the public associates the trade dress with a source or producer, rather than just the product itself. See, e.g., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 216 (2000). For this reason, it often takes time to acquire trade dress protection for a product design. Product packaging, on the other hand, may not require time to show it has acquired source-identifying function. See, e.g., Samara Bros. at 215 (“product packaging…normally is taken by the consumer to indicate origin.”).
During the time it takes to develop trade dress protection for a product design, the design can be protected by a design patent (so long as it is novel, non-obvious, and ornamental). Once the design has acquired source-identifying function, the design can also be protected by trade dress. In this manner, a design can be protected by both a design patent and trade dress. When the design patent expires fifteen years after its grant date, the design will still be protected by trade dress so long as the public continues to associate the design with its source or producer.
As an example, Coca-Cola has obtained numerous design patents on its unique bottle shape, including U.S. Design Patent Nos. D63,657 and D105,529, shown below. The Coca-Cola bottle is also protected by trade dress, as the public readily recognizes the bottle as Coca-Cola’s product. Coca-Cola registered the trade dress with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1977 under U.S. Registration No. 1057884, which is depicted in the far right image below. While the design patents provided Coca-Cola a fourteen-year monopoly (design patent term changed from fourteen years to fifteen years in 2015) on the bottle designs, Coca-Cola was able to effectively extend this monopoly through trade dress protection, which still exists today.