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You Got The Look

And if anyone tries to steal it, you can take 'em to court.

This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

After three years, you've established a market niche for your specially designed widgets. Then it happens: A retail chain brings out a line of widgets that looks suspiciously like yours, right down to its design. You can already picture your market share dwindling. But what can you do?

Call your lawyer. Even if your product has no patent or registered trademark, a court can protect your right to the product's design and overall look under the "trade dress" theory. This is a more subtle concept than that of patents, which protect inventions, and copyrights, which protect literary and artistic materials. It's also different from the trademark concept, which protects the names and symbols that represent a product or service. Under the legal theory of trade dress, it's illegal to copy the way a competitor's product looks if doing so is likely to confuse customers.

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