9 Trademarked Colors
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 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 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, 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 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
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
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
8. 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 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.