As a former Franchisor Founder I spent a whole lot of my time making sure our business model was sound and our brand name was strong. That meant paying attention to all the details, including our trademarks and trade dress. Since we had basically conceived the mobile car washing industry on the West Coast, we were first to market, but hardly without immediate competition once we started making money. That meant we needed to have a strong differentiation at all times. Okay so, let’s talk about trademarks, logos, color schemes, trade dress, and our customized trucks and equipment.
Interestingly enough, I began to redesign all of our equipment, and insist that our vendors put our logo on the plastic tanks, machines, and paint them or mold them in our company colors. Can you trademark a container, such as a plastic tank, even for something as simple as a mobile car washing water tank? Sure you can, consider that you can trademark a catsup bottle, or special squirt bottle for mustard.
Interestingly enough, I had a company out of California – Rotational Molding – make our polypropylene tanks our specific company colors, and engrave our logo. Later, when franchising in multiple states, I found a vendor out of Florida who build custom equipment and truck beds out of Fiberglas for the pest control industry. We wanted Fiberglas because it didn’t rust in areas of high humidity, abundant rain, or harsh weather where they put salt on the roads – plus it was lighter weight saving on fuel, as it had just hit $1.35 per gallon, which at the time we thought was high – I’d be happy to go back to that now!
I talked to our vendor at length about this strategy and my needs, and I had him make them yellow and blue with our company logos, and re-engineer them under my directions and specifications into a customized set of tanks molded into the truck bed body. Why, because I wanted to trademark the equipment under our official trade dress. Now then, let me tell a little bit about this and how we were able to use this to protect our brand name.
You see, if you develop such trade dress, you don’t even have to register it, if it is unique, customized, is decorated with your company logo, and color scheme it is protectable, once it is used with the customer you are granted common law rights. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t register it – I sure as hell would in case you have to go into court to defend it, but knowing you have common law protection here sure makes it nice. Please consider all this and think on it – and if you are in a similar situation and want to create branded trade dress contact a trademark attorney.
“How to Handle Basic Copyright and Trademark Problems,” by Richard Dannay Chairman of the Practicing Law Institute Audio Cassette Program, New York, 1990, 4-cassettes on 7 sides 30-minutes each.