3425 With Envy

Can you own a color?

Jude Stewart has an interesting article in Print Magazine’s online edition about the legalities of owning a color, which I recommend you read.

Tiffany Blue, T-Mobile Magenta, Coca Cola Red — these are all trademarked colors and your right to use (and sometimes even mention) them is limited. In 2008 UPS successfully sued New Jersey attorney Sam Brown for using the phrase, “See what Brown can do for you” and Cadbury recently won the right to own the color purple (PMS 2685C). GAP’s signature blue (PMS 655) is also the name of their fragrance, and Corning owns the specific shade of pink that identifies its fiberglass insulation.

This doesn’t mean that you can never use purple, blue and pink, just that you can’t use them in a way that is the same or similar to the way the companies that own them do. You can create a a purple coffee logo for example, but not a purple chocolate wrapper. A green chocolate wrapper? Sure (just make sure it’s not triangular; Toblerone owns that shape). But a green coffee company logo? Maybe not.

The key distinction between which colors can be owned and which cannot is whether the color denotes the origin of a product. The image below displays no logo or other markings, but are you going to mistake it for a Pepsi? Of course not. The color and the shape clearly identify it’s origin. Both are therefore protected.

Aluminum Coke Bottle Deisgn

I’ve long thought that if I ever had a chance to create packaging for Coke, I’d leverage the tow most iconic elements of the Coca Cola brand — color and shape — and introduce a line of unmarked bottles like the one above. Recently, however, I read this fascinating study that showed that the logo actually makes the drink taste better). Who knew.

In a similar vein, Starbucks caused a ruckus last year when it revamped its logo, eliminating the name. I for one thought it was a bold and beautiful move; the siren image and their distinctive green circle are enough to identify any such emblazoned cup as coming from Starbucks. One can even imagine a future evolution in which only the green dot prevails…

Package Design for Starbucks


Additional reading:

The Battle for Blue [WIRED]

Louboutin Loses Hold of Red Soles 

Trademarking Color [Freakanomics]


Then, why not own your own color?