There was a recent article in the Hustle about the new trend of corporations trying to enforce intellectual property rights for specific colors.
A trademark’s purpose is to distinguish a product or service from competitors. Everyone can agree that a logo or a brand name should be trademarked. However, things get a little more thorny when we get to more abstract ideas such as colors.
Many familiar companies have trademarked colors. One example is the famous Tiffany blue.
Other examples are the specific shade of purple used by Prince that was registered in 2020.
“Usually a company does this when its business model relies, to some extent, on a particular color,” says Jeffrey Samuels, a professor emeritus at The University of Akron School of Law. “It will trademark a color to prevent other companies from using it.”
An important distinction, adds Samuels, is that a company with a color trademark only “owns” the color in connection to particular goods or services.
To successfully secure a trademark for a color, a firm must prove that a single color:
- Achieves “secondary meaning” (distinguishes a product from competitors and identifies the company as the definitive source of the product)
- Doesn’t put competitors at a disadvantage by affecting cost or quality
- Doesn’t serve a functional purpose
Often times clients have private label color schemes or packaging that is too similar to established brands. For example, anyone can source and buy a screwdriver set from Alibaba.