Shape Of Goods – Trademark Or Design?

Protecting the unique elements of your products is vital. Two common forms of IP protection are shape trademarks and design. Understanding these types of protections and knowing which one to select can greatly influence your business success. This blog will explore the intricacies of shape trademarks and design to help you make well-informed decisions.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is an IP protection that grants exclusive rights to a sign used to distinguish one trader’s goods from those of others. Trademarks can include:

  1. Words: Like your business name.
  2. Phrases: Such as your business slogan.
  3. Sounds: Like your business jingle.
  4. Images: Such as your business logo.
  5. Shapes: Three-dimensional forms that identify products.

Trademarks offer considerable marketing benefits and legal protection, ensuring your brand stands out in the market.

What are Shape Trademarks?

Shape trademarks are a specific category of trademarks involving three-dimensional shapes that distinguish goods. Examples include:

Coca-Cola’s contour bottle: Instantly recognizable as part of the Coca-Cola brand.

To register a shape trademark, the shape must meet certain criteria:

  • Distinctiveness: It must clearly distinguish your goods or services from others.
  • Non-functionality: It cannot be a shape necessary for the product’s function that other traders might need.
  • Non-commonality: It should not be a shape commonly used in the industry.

What is Design Protection?

Design protects the overall visual appearance of new and distinctive products. This includes the shape, color, configuration, or pattern of a design. However, the design does not protect:

  • Functionality: How the product operates.
  • Materials: The materials used in the product.
  • Size: The product’s dimensions.
  • Partial designs: Individual elements of a product.
  • Evolving appearance: Changes in the product’s look over time.

Design focuses on the aesthetic aspects rather than the function of a product.

Overlapping Protection: Trademarks and Design

Trademarks and Design can overlap, as both can protect elements of a product’s appearance, such as:

  1. Shape
  2. Color
  3. Branding

Understanding the similarities and differences between these protections is essential for effective IP management.

Key Differences: Shape Trademarks vs. Design

While similar, shape trademarks and design have distinct differences. Here’s a comparison:

Shape Trademark


Distinguish the shape of your goods from competitors.

Protects the overall visual appearance of your goods.

Can already be in use before registration.

Must be new and not previously in the marketplace.

Functional or common shapes are difficult to protect.

Can protect functional products if they are unique.

Can be renewed every ten years indefinitely.

Limited to a maximum registration period of 15 years.

Key Takeaways

  1. Shape trademarks distinguish the shape of your goods from competitors, can be renewed indefinitely, and can be in use before registration.
  2. Design protects the overall appearance, must be new, and is limited to ten years.

Making an informed choice between these protections depends on your product’s market status and your strategic IP needs. For comprehensive protection, consider consulting with an IP professional to tailor your strategy to your specific requirements.

Securing your product’s unique features can significantly boost its market value and competitive edge. Whether through trademarks, design, or a combination of both, protecting your intellectual property is a crucial step in your business strategy.