Let’s talk about colors!

What is a color trademark and why do we need a color trademark?

Some colors have become such an integral part of the identity of a company (read Barbie’s pink and Tiffany’s blue) that the color needs to be trademarked so as to avoid fraudulent or imitating activities.



How did this come into existence?

Flashback to the 1980s and the U.S law refused to recognize a color as a brand, even though color combinations have long been protected. This underwent a change when Owens-Corning launched its “Think Pink” campaign, and in 1985, a court of Appeals ruled that the company possessed the right to prevent others from using the same color for the same purposes.

It was also later ruled that a single color can be used as a brand, provided the public strongly associates that color with that brand (read the “green” of Starbucks, the “pink” of Barbie and the blue of Tiffany).



Some well known examples:

If we notice the original box in which Barbie comes, we see it written “The color Barbie pink is a trademark of Mattel”. Yes, the color we associate with Barbie is Barbie pink.  It is trademarked to an extent (yes, a limited trademark) that a competing company in the same market cannot use the same color in its packaging.  The keyword here is competing. You can well go ahead and use it as the color of your, say, plumbing business but you cannot package dolls of your company in a box of the same color.

Christian Louboutin recently trademarked its “red heels”, more specifically the red lacquered outsole which it has been using on its signature women’s shoes since 1992.  This was the result of a legal battle between design giants Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent.



How does the customer benefit from the same?

It’s all in good spirits and to save the consumer from confusion. Let’s take Tiffany’s example. “Tiffany blue” has emerged as one of the shades of color itself. The color which can be described as robin’s egg’s blue is “owned” by Tiffany & Co. for its boxes and bags.



Does it diminish the color palette?

Speaking of Tiffany yet again, common man has no restrictions against owning a car of the color robin’s egg’s blue but he cannot start a jewellery line which boxes its products in a box or packet of the same color.

Practically speaking, it is not possible to permit every “business” to own a color. That might result in color depletion, despite the acme and ever increasing color palette.  These are nothing but attempts to minimize brand confusion.

What are the restrictions on demarcating a color for a brand?

Also, there are certain colors too which cannot be trademarked and they are the “functional colors”. These cannot be “owned” under any circumstance. For example, green is the accepted color of lawns and cannot be owned by a company manufacturing land mowers.


Let us conclude with saying that a perpetual control over color would be an impossible concept but with the already mammoth sense of brand-exclusivity, it won’t be surprising if this turns out to be one of the reasons for a diminishing color palette.




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