Apparently, you can trademark a color

Blueneck

Former Staff
Jun 2007
57,241
46,341
Ohio
I wasn't aware this could even happen.

Daniel Schreiber, the CEO of a small insurance company called Lemonade, was surprised this summer when he received a strongly worded letter from lawyers at one of the world's biggest telecom companies.

"At some level I knew it wasn't a joke, but it sure sounded like one," he said.

The letter was from Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile, and it accused Lemonade of stealing its trademark.

But, oddly, the dispute wasn't over the name T-Mobile or even its logo or tagline. It was over a color. In this case, Pantone Rhodamine Red U, also known as magenta.

"You're talking about the one of the three ink cartridges in every printer in the world," Schreiber said. "The idea that a company can trademark it and own it, just defied belief and I was in a state of disbelief."
And T-Mobile is serious about this.

This isn't T-Mobile's first color-based legal dispute. In 2014, the company sued rival AT&T for using a shade of plum that was suspiciously similar to magenta. And over the years T-Mobile has gone after a lot of other companies, including a British IT firm and a now-defunct smartwatch maker.

T-Mobile told NPR that it has lots of businesses beyond just wireless service and the company feels it's important that there's no confusion when customers see the color magenta.

T-Mobile has really leaned into its association with the color. Aside from being splashed across all of its branding, its CEO, John Legere, never goes out in public without a magenta T-shirt and his custom-made magenta sneakers. He even dyed his hair magenta earlier this year.
So, do the courts agree?

So, can a company really claim ownership over a color?

It can, according to Robert Zelnick, a trademark attorney at McDermott Will & Emery. He says it all goes back to the 1980s and a company called Owens Corning, which makes pink fiberglass insulation for houses.

"They claimed rights to the color pink for fiberglass insulation," Zelnick says. "Some people will remember the 'think pink' campaign and the Pink Panther and lots of other tie-ins for that."

Zelnick says Owens Corning was able to prove that the brand was linked to the color pink in people's minds, and the company was granted a trademark on the color, upending more than a century of conventional legal wisdom.

Many companies have since gone to court to protect their distinctive hues. Think Tiffany blue or Cadbury purple.

But will the courts allow T-Mobile to keep magenta? Schreiber, the CEO of Lemonade, says he's determined to make sure that doesn't happen.

I hope Lemonade wins. If they lose, it sets a horrible precedent IMO.
 

boontito

Future Staff
Jan 2008
110,663
104,682
Most Insidious
It's more about using the color in a specific way for a business purpose that may also compete with someone in a similar business.

UPS has done the same for its particular shade of brown. I think John Deere has done the same with green and yellow. Anyone can still paint their barn magenta and T-Moble can't do anything about it.
 
Aug 2018
4,402
7,433
Vancouver
Reminds me of the (relatively) epic smackdown from Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada.

"OK, I see. You think this has nothing to do with you," she says, sounding exhausted. "You go to your closet and you select that lumpy, loose sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back, but what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue. It's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean."

She continues: "And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns, and then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent who showed cerulean military jackets, and then cerulean quickly shot up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through department stores, and then trickled on down onto some tragic Casual Corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it's sort of comical how you think you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff."
 

johnflesh

Former Staff
Feb 2007
28,595
21,552
Weirdo
I can understand trademarking colors, hell even when we were a startup we did that.
But to sue over it is a completely different level of douchebag if it isn't an obvious egregious brand theft.
 

boontito

Future Staff
Jan 2008
110,663
104,682
Most Insidious
I can understand trademarking colors, hell even when we were a startup we did that.
But to sue over it is a completely different level of douchebag if it isn't an obvious egregious brand theft.
That'd probably be my attitude too. But, I think trademark attorneys would say we're wrong. If you don't show a track record of protecting your trademark, later when there is an attempt at "obvious egregious brand theft", the opposition can argue that you've been slowly surrendering your trademark over the years. Why didn't it bother you before? We're doing the same thing those small companies did. Why punish us because we're more successful than they are? Not sure if it'd work, but trademark protection is the reason given for a lot of things that appear to be almost nuisance suits.
 

Djinn

Council Hall
Dec 2007
53,329
40,923
Pennsylvania, USA
Many colors are trademarked, and have been for years. Examples:

3M has trademarked the particular shade of canary yellow used on its Post-It Notes.
Mattel trademarked the shade of pink used to market Barbie dolls long ago.
UPS trademarked the shade of brown used on their trucks.
Cadbury trademarked their distinctive shade of purple used in their advertising and packaging.
Reese's shade of orange, of course...
T-Mobile's shade of magenta...
John Deere has trademarked the colors of its distinctive two-tone green and yellow motif. Caterpillar's trademarked yellow is different from John Deere's trademarked yellow.

The trademarked colors basically mean that you cannot use those colors to market any product in the same industry as the trademark-holder. So if you wanted to market toys using "Barbie Pink," you'd be in violation. If you wanted to manufacture "Barbie Pink" fiberglass insulation, you'd probably be okay.
 

CtC

Mar 2019
14,643
5,301
California
Many colors are trademarked, and have been for years. Examples:

3M has trademarked the particular shade of canary yellow used on its Post-It Notes.
Mattel trademarked the shade of pink used to market Barbie dolls long ago.
UPS trademarked the shade of brown used on their trucks.
Cadbury trademarked their distinctive shade of purple used in their advertising and packaging.
Reese's shade of orange, of course...
T-Mobile's shade of magenta...
John Deere has trademarked the colors of its distinctive two-tone green and yellow motif. Caterpillar's trademarked yellow is different from John Deere's trademarked yellow.

The trademarked colors basically mean that you cannot use those colors to market any product in the same industry as the trademark-holder. So if you wanted to market toys using "Barbie Pink," you'd be in violation. If you wanted to manufacture "Barbie Pink" fiberglass insulation, you'd probably be okay.
Includes certain CAR colors.