Retail Layout, Decor, & Trade Dress

Whether owning or leasing a retail space, one important decision for the business owner will concern the design layout and decor of the space. Traffic flow, presentation, and overall visual impression are important characteristics to any successful store space. Depending upon the uniqueness of the layout and/or decor, one oft-forgotten form of intellectual property is the concept of trade dress - a species of trademark law.

Trade dress refers to the image and overall appearance of a product (such as a retail store). The distinctive decor, layout, menu, and style of service for a restaurant is protectible by trade dress. Practically every franchise-model restaurant has some element of trade dress as part of its intellectual property bundle that it licenses to franchisees. Golf courses are another example of usable and enforceable trade dress, such as the "Island Green" at The Player's Course (TPC) in Jacksonville, FL (a green that is completely encompassed by water, save for a three foot wide walk-way onto the green).

Much like its trademark-uncle, trade dress prevents others from using the decor, layout, or style of a business in a deceptive way that would cause consumers to confuse one store and location with another store and location.

For business owners, the opportunity to develop and then exclude others from mimicking the same layout, color scheme, and atmosphere may provide the most significant competitive advantage s/he can find in a competitive market. Being aware of and then utilizing this form of intellectual property is building a foundation for a system and model that may be translatable to other locations and be the seed of a franchise-model business.