The following is an edited transcript of my video Color Trademarks Case Study: T-Mobile Magenta.
Non-traditional trademarks are some of the most interesting and fun topics to discuss in the world of brand protection. They’re not terribly common for most brands, and that’s part of what makes them interesting. Non-traditional trademarks include sounds, sense, motions, lighting, colors, and more. Essentially, things that are not made up of logo designs or words. I want to focus on color trademarks. Colors can be protected. The brown color used by UPS is a registered trademark. John Deere has the combination of particular shades of yellow and green that they use on farm and tractor equipment registered, and Home Depot has their shade of orange registered. Of course, this does not mean that these brands have exclusive right to use that color in all different ways. We can use those colors, but we may not be able to use those colors for the products or services that those brands have them registered for.
A non-traditional mark—including colors—is generally going to have an even more narrow scope of protection. Very specific as to the shade, the color, how it’s applied, and what the goods or services are. For instance, the magenta of T-Mobile is a registered trademark. T-Mobile does a great job with their magenta color and branding. If you see any T-Mobile promotion—flyer, billboard, store, commercial—it always features magenta and features it in a substantial manner. In order for a color trademark to be registered, it has to have acquired distinctiveness, it has to have acquired secondary meaning. It has to be used over and over again in prominent ways, and that’s what T-Mobile has done such a great job of. That’s what UPS has done such a great job of. UPS also uses the slogan, “What Can Brown Do For You?” That’s called “look for” advertising, which helps the consumer know and think about the color protection even more. T-Mobile does this as well. I believe they have some services that go by Magenta Club or that otherwise use the word “magenta” in the name of the services.
All of this came to mind for me recently at a music festival, where T-Mobile had a VIP booth set up (see pics in the video at erikpelton.tv). T-Mobile had magenta plastered everywhere throughout their booth—on the banners, on the signage—even the lighting for their booth at night was all the same exact shade of magenta. This is a great example of what can be protected for a color trademark, and how to go about doing it in terms of acquiring secondary meaning with extensive use and really getting consumers to focus on that color as part of the marketing.