Trademarked Colors

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Recently, I spotted a story about T-Mobile successfully forcing a company called Lemonade to change the color of their marketing materials in Germany. T-Mobile was able to do this because they own a trademark on the color magenta. I first learned of the rather ridiculous idea of trademarking a color many years ago, and since that time, I’ve kept a not-at-all comprehensive list of stories about this practice. Today, let’s take a look at just a few colors that companies have attempted to trademark, with varying degrees of success.

 Magenta 

T-Mobile uses magenta widely, and the color is certainly well associated with them in the telecommunications space. However, the aforementioned story involved them suing an online insurance provider. Worse, it seems T-Mobile isn’t even using the color they actually have trademarked, as evidenced by this graphic from the story:

My favorite part about this is that some lawyer got paid to be really snarky, in pink chart form.

 Pullman Brown 

This brown is trademarked by United Parcel Service (UPS). As truly long-time readers will know, this site established nearly a decade ago that brown is a bad color. Frankly, UPS can have it.

 Yellow 

The Wiffle Ball Inc. owns the color yellow when it comes to plastic bats. That’s fair enough, but what’s more than a little ridiculous is that many Wiffle bats state “The color YELLOW is a registered trademark of The Wiffle Ball, Inc.”.

A bit of research indicates several other companies own or have attempted to own “yellow” within their various sectors, from Mr. LongArm (“World’s Leading US Manufacturer of Extension Poles & Accessories”) to Cheerios (General Mills had no luck there). Perhaps this competition is what led Lemonade to use magenta, rather than fighting so many others for the more obvious yellow.

 Purple 

For years, British chocolatier Cadbury held a trademark on the colo(u)r purple. Earlier this year, a serious of legal maneuverings actually led to them losing the registered trademark on that color. For a wealth of reasons, though, it would still be inadvisable to sell chocolate wrapped in purple.

 Green 

Oil and gas megacorporation BP has repeatedly attempted to claim the color green in Australia, suing retailer Woolworths unsuccessfully, after the latter has also used green in its own gas stations. Perhaps BP might instead consider trademarking Gulf-Of-Mexico-oil-spill black?

Closing

Legally, trademarking a color as part of a corporate identity within a specific sector like “shipping” or “backyard baseball” makes some degree sense. Attempting to claim ownership of a color broadly, however, generally just winds up being laughable.


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