Some colors are so well known to be associated with a particular brand, a particular source of products or services that the color alone is registered with the US Patent & Trademark Office. Some well known examples are the color brown from UPS for delivering packages, the robin’s egg blue of Tiffany’s jewelry – their packaging, bags, and store displays consistently use this color and it’s quite well known in the field of jewelry. T-Mobile uses a particular shade of pink or magenta, not only in their logo, but in lighting and marketing and consistently throughout their services that T-Mobile has protection for the color.
Now, that doesn’t mean that nobody else can use that color. That doesn’t even mean that nobody else can use that color as part of a logo or as part of a trademark. What it means is that the brand owner has protection in their industry for that color and they might be able to stop someone from using that color in a significant manner in their same industry.
A well known, in the trademark world, case involving color trademarks from about five years ago involved Louis Vuitton, very high end women’s high heel fashion shoes and the color red on the soul of those shoes, which is well known as being the trademark of Louis Vuitton. And Louis Vuitton does have that color registered. They were in a lawsuit with another shoe and fashion company over using shoes that had a red sole. The case ended up getting resolved in that Louis Vuitton retained protection for the color red for the sole, but only where it’s in contrast with the color of the rest of the shoe, the body or the top of the shoe. They don’t own the color red altogether, but they own it for use in that manner for women’s high fashion shoes. As in this example, defining the scope is another important part of protecting and registering a color.
Another important part in registering and protecting a color is that the application is complicated and that the application will almost certainly require acquired distinctiveness showing that the mark has become well known if it’s going to get real strong protection. And one way that companies do that is by using advertising that points to the color. So a great example of this is that UPS used to use the slogan What can brown do for you? And so that was a creative way that focused customers to think about the color of brown and their services, which thereby helped strengthen the protection in the color brown. That’s called “look-for advertising.”
Colors trademarks come in, no pun intended, all shapes and sizes and colors. Another well known one, is the shade of green used by John Deere tractors. For many years they have always used the same color green. And so John Deere has protection related to that color, as it relates to farm equipment and tractors. It doesn’t mean that somebody can’t use that color green in their restaurant or with their podcast or with computer supplies. It means that that color green is protected by John Deere in their field of business.
If you have questions about how colors and color protection or other nontraditional marks might apply to protecting your brand and your business, contact me.