When I mention to people that I have a registered trade dress on my product, most people have never heard of it. A trade dress protects the look of a product and my trade dress is a contoured bottle that sits on top of the wrist. But there is another bottle trade dress that everyone has seen. The Coca Cola bottle trade dress.

What is a trade dress?

A registered trade dress refers to the protection granted to the overall visual appearance and design of a product or its packaging. It is a form of intellectual property right. It aims to safeguard the distinctive and non-functional elements that identify and distinguish a particular product or brand from others in the marketplace.

Trade dress protection extends to various aspects of a product’s appearance, including its shape, color, texture, size, graphics, and packaging. It encompasses both the product itself and its overall presentation, creating a distinct visual impression in the minds of consumers. Trade dress protection is typically sought for products or packaging that have acquired secondary meaning. Meaning that consumers have come to associate the specific design with a particular brand or source. Like my wrist water bottle.

Legal protection for trade dress

To obtain legal protection for trade dress, an owner can apply for a registration with the relevant intellectual property office in their jurisdiction. The registration process usually involves submitting an application, along with supporting evidence, demonstrating the distinctiveness and non-functionality of the trade dress. If granted, a registered trade dress provides the owner with exclusive rights to use and protect the specific design in commerce. And it can also offer legal remedies against potential infringement by others.

It took many years of getting the product out into the market with no advertising. It took many years of building up a brand – swiggies by HydroSport. The product was on the Today Show twice and on numerous TV shows, radio shows, magazines and newspapers. It had already become an internationally known brand before I even applied for the trade dress. It also already had a patent on it.

This has all proven to be valuable as I am working on licensing the IP to a company that can take it to the next level. My trade dress is uncontestable in court. And is valid for the life of the product as long as it’s on the market.

Trade dress protection

It’s important to note that trade dress protection is subject to certain limitations. It cannot protect functional aspects of a product or features that are essential to its use. Additionally, trade dress must be distinctive and capable of identifying the source of the product in the minds of consumers. Generic or commonplace designs are not eligible for trade dress protection.

Coca Cola bottle trade dress

Another example of a contoured bottle trade dress is the Coca Cola contour bottle trade dress. An iconic example of trade dress protection.

In the early 20th century, Coca-Cola faced increasing competition from other soft drink manufacturers, and the company wanted a distinct and recognizable bottle design that would set its product apart from the rest.

In 1915, Coca-Cola launched a competition to find a new bottle design that would be unique and instantly recognizable, even if broken into pieces. The Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, won the competition with a design known as the “Contour Bottle” or “Hobble Skirt Bottle.” The bottle featured a distinct curvy shape inspired by the cocoa pod, with a fluted middle and a contoured neck.

Unique bottle design

The unique design of the Coca-Cola bottle became a significant part of the brand’s identity and marketing strategy. It was intended to be easily distinguishable and associated exclusively with Coca-Cola. The company believed that consumers would recognize the bottle shape even if the Coca-Cola logo was not present. This would help build brand loyalty and prevent imitations.

As the popularity of Coca-Cola grew, the company sought legal protection for its unique bottle design. In 1960, after a long legal battle, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Coca-Cola a trademark registration for the “Contour Bottle” trade dress. This registration provided Coca-Cola with exclusive rights to use and protect the distinct shape of its bottle.

Coca Cola brand

Over the years, the Coca-Cola bottle trade dress has become synonymous with the brand itself. It has been a key element in Coca-Cola’s advertising campaigns and has played a significant role in maintaining the brand’s visual identity and market presence.

The story of the Coca-Cola bottle trade dress showcases the importance of distinctive and recognizable product packaging in establishing brand identity and protecting intellectual property rights.

Inventors and trade dress

Very few independent inventors ever get a registered trade dress. I think I was lucky, but also it took many, many years of preparation to get to that point. A really great patent agent, and a lot of serendipity.