restricted access Ambience as Property: Experience, Design, and the Legal Expansion of "Trade Dress"

Since the 1990s, extensive legal activity has developed around the concept of "trade dress," a subcategory of U.S. trademark law defined as the "total image and overall appearance of a product." This essay examines arguments and claims made for the application of trade dress to designed spaces, from the Taco Cabana fast food chain to Times Square billboards, and tracks an emerging legal definition of ambience or atmosphere as property. Placing this legal development within a broader shift toward experiential concerns in design and preservation practices, the article considers some of the historical questions raised in light of the expansion of legal purview into realms of consumer experience.