9 Trademarked Colors

Getty Images
Getty Images

Roy G. Biv better watch himself. From red to violet, it's completely legal for companies to stake a claim on any shade they want (provided they meet certain conditions), including the nine colors below. But don't throw out your adult coloring books just yet—trademarks are typically confined to certain industries or areas of expertise. For example, while you would certainly get a cease-and-desist letter for marketing your jewelry store with Tiffany Blue, you'd be perfectly within your rights to theme your bagel shop in the distinctive tone. (Just don't call it Breakfast at Tiffany's.)

1. QUALITEX GREEN-GOLD

QUALITEX green-gold color

Qualitex v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc., is what really put colormarking on the map. Qualitex had used a unique shade of green-gold for their dry cleaning presses since the 1950s, and in 1989 their competitor Jacobson Products began using a very similar shade. Qualitex sued, arguing trademark infringment and unfair competition. The fight went all the way to the Supreme Court, but in 1995 Qualitex won after the court ruled that color could serve as a trademark [PDF].

2. TIFFANY BLUE

Tiffany Blue

Tiffany Blue was first associated with the upscale jeweler in 1845, when Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the robin's egg shade for the cover of the company's first catalog, or "Blue Book." According to the company, he may have selected the color because turquoise was a popular gemstone at the time. Today the color is not only trademarked (it has been since 1998), it also has its own custom Pantone number: 1837, the year the company was founded.

3. OWENS-CORNING PINK

OWENS-CORNING PINK

Owens-Corning, which manufactures roofing materials and insulation, was the first company to trademark a color—pink—in the 1980s. The shade is so entwined with the Owens-Corning product that the company officially licenses the Pink Panther for use on packaging. They defended their colormark in 2011, when a U.K.-based insulation company came out with their own blush-colored insulation materials.

4. T-MOBILE MAGENTA

T-MOBILE MAGENTA

T-Mobile is an enthusiastic defender of their colormark—they have sued or threatened to sue over the bright shade on at least three occasions. In 2008, they threatened litigation against Engadget Mobile for using magenta, even though there’s probably little danger of anyone confusing a website and a cell phone company. Then they sued Telia, a Swedish cell phone company, for using a pretty similar shade in Denmark. Not only did T-Mobile lose because the two companies don't compete in the same market, it also had to pay all of Telia’s court costs. AT&T, however, does compete in the same market as T-Mobile, so when they used a familiar shade of magenta for one of their brands in 2014, T-Mobile was able to put the kibosh on it. Though AT&T referred to the color as “plum,” a judge ruled against them.

5. BARBIE PINK

BARBIE PINK

Another protected shade of pink: Barbie Pink. It’s trademarked for use in more than 100 categories, from bubble bath to cereal. Mattel, Barbie's parent company, sued MCA Records in 1997 when the song "Barbie Girl" by Aqua came out. Mattel wasn't pleased about the use of their product in the song, of course, but they also alleged that the song's album cover resembled Barbie packaging too closely, including the use of Barbie Pink. The judge threw the case out of court with the memorable ruling, "The parties are advised to chill."

6. CADBURY PURPLE

Cadbury Purple

Though royal purple has been associated with Cadbury since they wrapped their confections in the shade to honor Queen Victoria in the 1800s, the company is losing ground in the battle to use Pantone 2685C exclusively. For over a decade, the company has been embroiled in a legal skirmish with Nestle U.K., which seeks to use a similar color. Though Cadbury won the original case in High Court, the ruling was later overturned—and the war rages on.

7. WIFFLE BALL BAT YELLOW

WIFFLE BALL BAT YELLOW

Wiffle Ball bats were originally wooden. However, the yellow plastic incarnation that came along seven years later became so big that “Wiffle Ball Bat Yellow” was colormarked in 2008.

8. UPS BROWN

UPS BROWN

UPS’s signature color was originally called “Pullman Brown," and was reportedly picked because the rich tone was considered “the epitome of luxury” back when the UPS trucks were first painted with it in 1916. The color was trademarked in 1998.

9. 3M CANARY YELLOW

3M CANARY YELLOW

3M colormarked the original Post-It color, Canary Yellow, for use in office and stationery products. The sunny hue was chosen because it was the only color of scrap paper on hand when the company started experimenting with the sticky notes.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

Hard Sell: A History of the Pet Rock

Amazon
Amazon

You may have heard the story of the Pet Rock, the Mexican beach stone that could be purchased in bulk for less than a penny, retailed for $3.95, and made inventor Gary Dahl a millionaire during a kind of novelty gift hysteria in late 1975. But Dahl didn’t really get rich off of the rock.

He got rich off of a cardboard box.

Dahl was working as a freelance advertising copywriter in California that year when, while having drinks at a bar with friends, the conversation turned to the destructive nature of pets. Dogs and cats ruined furniture. Worse, they required constant attention, from being walked to being fed to cleaning up after them. Dahl said that he didn’t have to worry about any of that because he had a “pet rock.”

It was, of course, a joke. And it got a laugh. But Dahl decided there could be more to it than that. He went home and began writing an owner’s manual for this hypothetical pet rock, which detailed how best to handle it, the tricks it could perform (“play dead” being the most popular), and how it could remain a faithful companion due to its “long life span.” The gag was not so much the rock itself but the way it was presented. In addition to the manual, Dahl conceived of a cardboard box with air holes that resembled the kind used by pet shops. It also bore a passing resemblance to a McDonald's Happy Meal container.

 

Dahl's motivation in making a serious effort to monetize his pet rock idea was due in large part to his precarious financial situation at the time—he was struggling to keep up with his bills. He recruited George Coakley and John Heagerty, two colleagues, to come on as investors. They both signed on, with Coakley investing $10,000—a not-inconsiderable sum in 1975, especially when the intention was to sell virtually worthless rocks.

The Pet Rock packaging is pictured
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dahl, however, knew what he was marketing. Like chattering teeth, the Hula Hoop, and other fads, the Pet Rock was the beneficiary of good timing. Vietnam had ended but Watergate was still fresh; the country’s mood was slightly downcast, and Dahl believed people would see the inane nature of the Pet Rock and recognize the humor of it. He boxed the rocks with the manual and packed them in excelsior, which may be best known as comic book legend Stan Lee’s catchphrase but also means a softwood shaving pile meant for protecting fragile items. The rocks were purchased from a local sand and gravel company, which sourced them from Mexico’s Rosarita Beach. Dahl debuted the rock at a gift show in San Francisco in August of 1975, then waited for a reaction.

He got one. People understood the appeal right away and he began taking orders. Neiman Marcus wanted 1000 rocks. Bloomingdale’s later signed on. Newsweek did a story with a picture, which spread the word. Dahl had retail and media credibility for what was superficially a nonsense product. His bar joke was turning into a national phenomenon.

When the holiday season arrived, Dahl estimated he was selling up to 100,000 Pet Rocks a day. Ultimately, he would sell between 1.3 and 1.5 million of them within a period of just a few months. Coakley made $200,000 back on his initial $10,000 investment. Dahl gifted both Coakley and Heagerty with Mercedes. Making 95 cents in profit on each Pet Rock sold, Dahl earned over $1 million. He launched his own firm, Rock Bottom Productions, which was itself another joke. “You’ve reached Rock Bottom” is how the receptionist answered their phone.

 

The fad did not last—by definition, they’re not designed to—but Dahl was satisfied. His two investors were not; they "claimed they had received too small a share of the profits" and later sued Dahl for more revenue. After a judgment in the investors' favor, Dahl wrote them a six-figure check.

The Pet Rock is pictured
Amazon

There were attempts to prolong the life of the rock by offering a Bicentennial version in 1976—it had the American flag painted on it—and mail-order college degrees for them. Dahl sold Pet Rock T-shirts and Pet Rock shampoo. There were also copycat gifts, since Dahl could not really patent a rock. (He might have been able to obtain a utility patent because of the rock’s particular purpose as a companion, but he did not.) The humor was transient, however, and people had moved on.

Dahl had other ideas. There was the Official Sand Breeding Kit, which claimed to provide guidance on growing sand, and Canned Earthquake, which consisted of a coffee can that had a wind-up mechanism that caused it to jump around on a table. Neither was particularly successful. Dahl’s real passion, though, was buying and renovating a bar in Los Gatos, which he named Carrie Nation’s Saloon.

This was not without its problems, as people who believed they had the next Pet Rock would often stop by the bar to try and secure an audience with Dahl for his insight. Many times, their idea consisted of packaging bull or elephant excrement. There were also proposals to market a pet stick. Dahl had no patience for these inventors, believing the Pet Rock could not be duplicated. Later, he went back to advertising after taking what he described as an “eight-year vacation” following the success of his project.

The Pet Rock can still be found online, though it’s no longer Dahl’s business. He died in 2015. Of the unsold rocks he had left over at the end of the fad, he was indifferent. If they didn’t sell, he said, he would just use them to repave his driveway.

Costco Is Now Selling a $20 Cheese Flight

Costco
Costco

Whether or not you know why Costco employees check receipts at the exit or have a handle on all the perks the company offers, there's one thing about Costco you probably do know: In addition to getting awesome deals there, you can also get more unusual things like huge tubs of Nutella and mac and cheese—and now, you can add a cheese flight to that list.

Cosmopolitan recently reported that Costco Deals, an Instagram account “not associated with Costco Corp,” posted a photo of Kirkland Signature Cheese Flight, Variety Pack.

“Now a new summer cheese flight is available! Only $19.99! These sell out fast and seem to be in select stores! Grab it if you see it! This was found in NW Region,” the Instagram post reads.

That’s right—for less than $20, customers can buy a total of 1.8 pounds of fancy cheeses in one package: Yellow Door Creamery, Tuscan Hand-Rubbed Fontina, Jasper Hill Farm Cabot Clothbound Mature Bandage Cheddar, El Pastor Spanish Red Wine Soaked Goat, Busti Il Tartufo Pecorino Toscana (white truffles from Italy), and Yellow Door Creamery Monteau Alpine (aged for 150 days). Three of the cheeses are made from cow's milk, one from goat's milk, another from sheep’s milk, and four of them don’t contain the rBGH hormone.

Instead of paying a lot of money to get a wine-and-cheese flight or charcuterie board at a wine bar, you can now DIY a cheese-wine flight at home. The packaging even describes what kinds of wines and beers you should pair the cheeses with. For instance, the alpine goes well with pinot noir, champagne, and a hoppy or amber beer. (Luckily, Costco is also known for its affordable booze selection.)

The post has more than 3000 likes and almost 400 comments, so there’s a chance your local Costco might be out of this life-changing product. But while you’re looking for Costco deals, they have Eggo Waffles, boots, head boards, plants, and non-wine-soaked string cheese on sale, too.

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