Color is powerful. What do you assume about someone based on the color of their car, shoes, shirt, nail polish, or hair? Think about all the colors you would never paint your bedroom walls, or how beautiful the sky looks when it’s your favorite shade of blue.
When it comes to business, color is an industry in and of itself. In fact, there are color consultants, color analysts, and even expert witnesses in the field of color. Color can leave a lasting impact on consumers and makes up a huge part of a brand’s identity — so it’s not entirely surprising that brands have been known to sue each other in courtrooms over the use of color.
While most colors are free for anyone to use, there are some brands that have trademarked them. Trademarking brand colors and color combinations is different than securing trademarks over logos and symbols. Generally, if two companies aren’t in similar industries, there’s no problem with using the same color: Nexium and Cadbury use similar purples, and the University of North Carolina’s blue is almost the same shade as Tiffany’s. But if you’re a hardware store and you want to use the same bright orange as Home Depot, you’ll probably run into trouble.
In the list below, check out 9 trademarked colors of popular brands.
Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany’s trademarked robin’s egg blue is synonymous with luxury and sophistication. So it makes sense that the brand trademarked the iconic blue in 1998 to prevent low-quality competitors from luring away existing customers. The color, deemed No. 1837 in Pantone’s Color Matching system (for the year Tiffany & Co. was founded), cannot be used by any other jeweler.
This home construction material company was the first to ever trademark a color; it has since become famous for its Pink Panther mascot and pink insulation, which is dyed this glamorous hue to distinguish from competitors. It’s the only company in the industry legally authorized to use the color in its products and advertising.
The shoe designer put its foot down and sued competitor Yves St. Laurent for infringing on its famous red sole. A U.S. court judge felt that Louboutin was toeing the line, so to speak – the judge stated red was too broad a color to trademark in fashion, but allowed a trademark on the bright red outsole, as long as it is paired with a contrasting color. This allows designers to make shoes with red outsoles if the entire shoe is a similar hue.
Manufacturing giant 3M has trademarked the color canary yellow used on its famous Post-It Notes. They even sued Microsoft for infringement when it created a digital version of a sticky note product in the same color.
The Home Depot
HomerTLC, the parent company of The Home Depot, has legal rights over the orange used in their signs and advertising. Though there are other businesses that have used the color, Home Depot takes issue when competing brands use a combination of their trademarked color and bold, stenciled font.
Mega-discount retailer Target has dibs on red in the discount retailer sphere, and it’s known for opposing anyone who tries to use its signature color in their branding. But Coca-Cola, which shares the bright fire engine red, is safe – the brands aren’t direct competitors.
What can brown do for you? It’s done tons for UPS, whose logo, trucks, and uniform are awash in this classic hue. Its Pullman Brown fleet has been delivering parcels since 1916.
John Deere went a step further than most companies, trademarking two colors as a color combination. While it can’t trademark green by itself because it’s considered a “functional” color that symbolizes vegetation, it does protect the use of a particular green and yellow used together.
This German cell phone giant’s familiar magenta has been at the helm of several unsuccessful infringement lawsuits. The shocking shade of pink is used prominently in advertising and branding efforts, making T-Mobile one of the younger companies on this list with a recognizable trademarked color.