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Can I Trademark a Color?

Designer with a color palette
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You can trademark a color, but it’s worth taking the time to consider if you really should or need to. The scenarios under which you can successfully trademark a color are fairly narrow, and you also have to consider the scope of protection and how that might work to protect your brand or business.

Keep reading to find out more about trademarking a color, including whether it might be the right move for your business. Then find out how a trademark attorney can help you through the process.

When Can You Trademark a Color?

Colors couldn’t always be trademarked. The first company to successfully trademark a color in the United States was Owens Corning, which fought its way through the appeals courts to earn a ruling on its trademark of a certain shade of pink. In 1985, the court ruled that Owens Corning could have a trademark on the pink associated with its insulation products and that the company could keep other competitors from using that hue.

Since that time, other businesses have trademarked colors. To successfully trademark a color, however, you must meet a few requirements. The color can’t simply serve a decorative or utilitarian purpose. For example, having a specific blue in your logo because your logo includes the image of the sky isn’t enough for a trademark. That’s simply a utilitarian use of the hue.

Instead, the color has to serve an identification function. It must be critical to differentiating your brand or product from others, and you typically have to demonstrate that the public has come to associate the color with your brand over time.

Owens Corning products, for example, are synonymous with that particular shade of pink, and consumers can often pick them out based solely on that hue. In another example, you can see two box delivery trucks up ahead on the highway. If one is a certain shade of dark brown, you know without seeing anything else that it’s a UPS truck.

Understanding Trademark Scope of Protection

When you get a trademark, the protections it offers are limited in scope. Trademarks require two parts:

  • The symbol, word, phrase, design, and/or color
  • The goods and services those marks apply to

Consider Target’s red bull’s-eye. This mark is directly related to retail stores and services. The scope of protection, then, is limited to this space and niches that may be very close to it. So, if a new retail website launched using a similar red bull’s-eye, Target would be able to stop it from using the logo under trademark protection. There’s a good chance that consumers would confuse the retail website as being associated with Target if the design is used.

However, if an archery supplies company used a red bull’s-eye pattern on its packaging to indicate what the target inside might look like, Target probably couldn’t stop this use. That’s because consumers are unlikely to see a bull’s-eye on a package for an archery target (that would naturally have a bull’s-eye on it) and think “Oh, this must be associated with Target the store.” The scope of protection would not apply here.

More Examples of Trademarked Colors

To understand the type of relationship between goods and services—and public identification of a brand—and trademarked colors, consider some of these examples:

  • Coca-Cola red. Just reading that phrase, you probably have a mental image of the color in question. At this point, that particular red is synonymous with the soda company. If you saw a cola can with that red and no logo or other information, you would still think “Coca-Cola.”
  • Home Depot orange. The home improvement store is often positioned nearby its biggest competitor, Lowe’s. But there’s no confusing the two, because Home Depot’s orange logo and design elements are ingrained in the awareness of consumers. 
  • Pepto-Bismol pink. Reaching for stomach relief is easy, even if your medicine cabinet is a bit unorganized. Almost nothing else in the niche has the same cotton-candy pink hue as Pepto.

How Can You Trademark a Color

As previously mentioned, the first step is considering whether you really do need to trademark the color. You also need to consider whether consumers have come to identify this color with your brand to a high-enough degree over time. A trademark and business litigation attorney can help you understand whether this is the right step for you and whether you have the ability to protect your trademark if you do seek it.

Once you decide to trademark a color, the path is similar to the process for any other type of trademark. You’ll have to conduct a trademark search with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to ensure a competing trademark filing isn’t already in place. Then you have to apply for the trademark with the USPTO. On average, this process can take 12 to 18 months, though it can be longer in some cases. If your trademark application is denied, you can appeal the decision if desired.

Whether you’re seeking to trademark a color or your business logo or tagline, a trademark attorney can guide you through the process, handle the paperwork details, and fight on your behalf to get your trademark approved. Find out more about how we can help by contacting Kate Charleston Law, PC, today.

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