No Trade Dress Protection for Functional Shape and Color Scheme

By on April 9, 2020
Posted In Trademarks

Addressing the scope of trade dress protection, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the shape and color scheme of a product was functional and therefore only eligible for patent law’s protection of utilitarian inventions. CTB, Inc. v. Hog Slat, Inc., Case No. 18-2107 (4th Cir. Mar. 27, 2020) (Wynn, J.) (Keenan, J. concurring) (Rushing, J. concurring).

CTB owns a trade dress registration covering the octagonal shape and red and gray color scheme of its chicken feeder products. CTB sued Hog Slat for infringement of the trade dress. The district court granted Hog Slat’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the shape and color scheme of the feeder products is functional, and trade dress protection is therefore not available. CTB appealed.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. Addressing trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act and North Carolina common law, the Court held that a feature is functional if “it is the reason the device works” and used the Morton-Norwich factors to assist in its functionality inquiry. These factors are: (1) the existence of utility patents disclosing the utilitarian advantages of a design, (2) advertising focusing on the utilitarian advantages of a design, (3) the availability of functionally equivalent alternative designs which competitors may use and (4) facts indicating that a design results in a comparatively simple or cheap method of manufacturing the product.

Turning to the case at hand, the Fourth Circuit found that the shape and color of CTB’s chicken feeder profile is functional and ineligible for trade dress protection. As to the shape, the Court found that the octagonal outline of the pan feeders, as a whole, was functional because CTB’s utility patent and advertisements described the functional benefits of the shape. As to color, the Court found that because the color trade dress was placed on the supplemental trademark register, rather than the principal register, it is presumed functional, and CTB bears the burden of proving non-functionality. The Court found that CTB did not overcome this presumption and that the combination of red pan and gray spokes in the feeders served the functional purpose of attracting chickens to feed. Since the shape and the color scheme were both functional, the Court found that these aspects were ineligible for trade dress protection.