A brand name, a logo, a tagline. These are the traditional trademarks we are all used to. But what about the non-traditional ones that might come up only a handful of times in the course of a career prosecuting trademark applications?
One example of a non-traditional mark is a color trademark. Not just a color scheme that is claimed as part of a design or logo mark, but the color itself.
When does a color stop being a feature of the product and start to become a color trademark? When it gains that special something under trademark law – secondary meaning. When it becomes not just the color, but an indicator of source, the color can be protected as a trademark, assuming it’s distinctive.
A common example of a color trademark is the pink color of Owens Corning insulation, boosted by the longtime association with the Pink
Panther. More recently, designer Christian Louboutin has turned the red soles of his company’s shoes into an indication that the shoes are his.
Other companies that have invested long and consistent use into certain color schemes and have worked to protect those color schemes include:
UPS – brown
T-Mobile – magenta
It is obviously important to advise clients that dissimilar products and services are still free to use color schemes that have meaning for non-competing products. But using similar color schemes in the same industry can take you from in the pink to seeing red, where one company can have color trademark rights over a certain hue. AT&T found out in a court case with T-Mobile when magenta went up against plum in the telecom industry.