There are plenty of colours to choose from. And some shades are so appealing, you’d be hard up not to incorporate them in your projects. However, if you’ve unwittingly been using one of the seven specific colours, you just might get on the wrong side of the law.
Did you know companies could trademark colours? Unfortunately for some companies, they were caught red-handed for using colours that have already been trademarked.
The colour of a brand is different from a colour trademark. Even though a TM or ® symbol may appear on a brand’s image, it does not mean there are any legal rights to the colour or colours. For example, the TM and ® marks on the McDonald’s and Starbucks logos means that the company has claimed rights to the image (the symbol, word, or combination of both). Copyright is different. It means that the original creator of any work (writing, images, music, software, etc.) has the sole right to distribute, publish, sell, or copy that work for a set period of time; unless they explicitly hand over that right to someone else.
A colour trademark is different. In this case, the colour is the brand. The use of the colour in a marketing industry is protected by trademark. For example, when you see chocolate candy in a purple wrapper, you know it’s Cadbury; when you see a turquoise box for jewelry, you know it’s from Tiffany & Co. Consequently, it’s not possible to permit every business to own their colour. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any colours available to use.
Design colours that could get you sued
Usage of the following colours within the same industry could land you in hot water.
Mattel Barbie Pink
Pantone 219C | #DA1884
Pantone 1837 | #81D8D0
Pantone 2685c | #330072
Process Magenta | #E20074
Pantone 476 | #351c15
John Deere Green
Pantone 364C | #367C2B
John Deere Yellow
Pantone 109C | #FFDE00
University of Texas Burnt Orange
Pantone 159 | #BF5700
What colours cannot be trademarked?
One of the basic principles of colour trademark laws in the North America is that a functional colour cannot be trademarked. So, if a company makes lawn mowers, they can’t own green, because green is the colour of lawns and is therefore a functional colour.
Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.