You can’t simply call dibs on your favorite hue out of the crayon box by trademarking it so others can’t use it. However, in specific cases, businesses can trademark colors that serve a brand or product identification purpose that goes beyond graphic design or decoration.
Dig into the ins and outs of color trademarks below to discover if you should consider protecting your brand’s signature hue.
Examples of Trademarked Colors
Coca-Cola is known for its vibrant red can, and that color is visible on bottle and box packaging for the brand too. You also see it in the company’s logo, so it’s probably no surprise that Coca-Cola trademarked the color.
Another brand with a well-known color is Home Depot, which trademarked its signature bright orange. UPS went a step further, trademarking the actual word “Brown,” and Barbie has a trademark on pink that covers more than 100 categories of products and uses. For example, that specific pink can only be used in relation to toys, cereal, and bubble bath under the Barbie brand.
Other trademarked colors include Pepto-Bismol’s well-known pink (Barbie didn’t have stomach medications locked down), Target’s red, 3M’s canary yellow, Owens-Corning’s pink, and T-Mobile’s magenta.
When Can You Trademark a Color?
U.S. trademark law says you can trademark words, symbols, names, devices, and any combination of those things that are used to identify your goods and services and distinguish them from others.
That includes color as long as:
- The color is specifically used in identification of the brand, product, or services
- The color is not just a decorative addition
For example, T-Mobile uses its trademarked magenta hue in a number of ways to support identification of its services:
- Its logo usually appears in this color or on this color
- Graphics on its website and social media page tend to include this color to make it apparent where the content is coming from
- In service coverage map comparisons, T-Mobile shows its own coverage with its signature magenta—usually in comparison to blues or grays for competitors
The Limits of Trademark Color Protection
Of course, trademarking a color doesn’t mean you own it, and you can’t stop everyone from using it.
Coca-Cola can’t keep kids from pulling the red crayon out of their box of colors and drawing with it, for example. In fact, it can’t even keep Target from using and trademarking a fairly similar color. That’s because Target and Coca-Cola offer two very different services, and there’s no chance consumers are going to confuse the two.
T-Mobile provides another great example of the limitation of trademark color protection. It has defended its trademarked color on numerous occasions but has not always won those lawsuits. In one case, T-Mobile tried to sue a company that wasn’t in the mobile phone space. Because the other company didn’t offer products or services that were at all similar to T-Mobile’s, the suit didn’t go anywhere.
On another occasion, T-Mobile sued a company using a similar magenta that was in the mobile phone space. However, that company operated in another country where T-Mobile didn’t operate, which meant they were not competitors and there wasn’t an issue.
When AT&T tried to use a color too close to T-Mobile’s, however, the lawsuit stuck. That’s because AT&T offers the same services and in the same market as T-Mobile.
Should You Trademark a Color?
Is it worth the time and expense to trademark a color for your business? That’s a decision you ultimately have to make for yourself, but you should definitely consider some important questions, including:
- Is the color an essential part of brand identity for your business or products? For example, at this point, you can’t really separate Coca-Cola the beverage from the classic red.
- Is there a chance other people would try to use the same color on similar products or associated with similar services, and would that negatively impact your business?
- Can you get the level of protection you need by trademarking your brand name, tagline, and logo without worrying about trademarking a specific color?
Why It’s a Good Idea to Involve a Trademark Attorney
Trademarks are only as strong as your ability to stand up for them. Even if you got a trademark for your signature shade of yellow, you must be able to fight for it if someone else tries to use it in the same way you are.
Because of this, it can be a good idea to work with a trademark attorney. An experienced professional can help you understand all the ways to protect your intellectual property and business brand. They can provide advice about whether trademarking a color is worth it and what other steps you might consider taking. They can also help you fight for your trademarks when necessary.
If you’re considering trademarking a color, logo, or anything else, contact InPrime Legal today to find out more about how we can help.