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Frequently Asked Questions

How does functionality play a key role in most trade dress cases?

Functionality plays a pivotal role in most trade dress cases, as it is one of the key factors that courts consider when determining whether a trade dress can be legally protected under the Lanham Act. The functionality doctrine in trade dress law is designed to prevent companies from monopolizing essential or useful product features under the guise of obtaining exclusive rights to their trade dress. In the context of trade dress, functionality refers to the practical or utilitarian aspects of a product or service, as opposed to its aesthetic or promotional aspects. If a trade dress is found to be primarily functional, it cannot be protected, even if it is closely associated with a single product or service, or if its use by a competitor would cause customer confusion. The courts often spend a significant amount of time determining whether a trade dress is primarily functional or promotional. For instance, the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle, while distinctive, does not serve a functional purpose, and can therefore be protected by trade dress. On the other hand, the round design of a beach towel was found to be primarily functional rather than promotional, and thus could not be protected.
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