The physical characteristics of a product and its packaging, such as product/packaging shape, color and design, can be impactful things. They can serve as important identifying markers for consumers. Sometimes, a product's packaging and design elements become so strongly identified with a product that they project to consumers the quality and attributes of the product.
Thus, it can be very disturbing for a business when it discovers that design elements or packaging elements of its products are being copied by a competitor. Such copying could make it harder for customers to identify which products are the business' products and could weaken the brand value of the elements.
One thing businesses facing such copying may wonder is if there are any legal steps they can take to stop the copying. There generally are if the design elements or packaging elements fall under the category of trade dress. Trade dress is a special kind of intellectual property that covers things like distinctive product design elements and distinctive packaging. There are legal protections for trade dress and lawsuits can be pursued in relation to infringement on trade dress.
There are multiple factors that can affect whether or not a particular physical characteristic of a company's products or product packaging would qualify the characteristic as protectable trade dress, including the distinctiveness of the characteristic. Business law attorneys skilled in intellectual property matters can help businesses with identifying what protectable trade dress they have when it comes to their products and whether actionable trade dress infringement has been committed against them when it comes to their products.
Source: FindLaw, "Types of Trademarks," Accessed Dec. 2, 2015