Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Protecting Brand Identity Through Trademarked Colors

By Heather Truitt

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the importance of color selection in website artwork and design, but did you know that some companies go as far as trademarking their colors? Brands need to protect themselves from competitors in their same industries trying to use their signature colors.

One of the best examples of this is Tiffany Blue. The jeweler Tiffany & Co. started using its robin’s-egg blue in 1845, when founder Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the color for the cover of “Blue Book,” the company’s annual collection of jewelry. Tiffany Blue is a custom Pantone color created for Tiffany & Co. and is not available for public use. (Pantone is a color-matching system that helps ensure that colors reproduce consistently across various printing techniques.) Not only is the color trademarked, but the boxes in which the company’s jewelry is packaged also are trademarked. Tiffany & Co. uses Tiffany Blue on everything from its advertising to its boxes and even as the background color for its website. No other brand is associated with that distinct blue, certainty no other jewelry companies. Trademark protection for a brand color helps consumers clearly identify the source of a product or service. Tiffany & Co. has protected its brand from competitors by trademarking the color blue.

Many other brands also have trademarked their colors, including AstraZeneca’s heartburn relief drug Nexium and Prilosec, which is marketed as “the purple pill.” A trademark protects the purple pill from other pharmaceutical companies using purple to sell their medication. In a recent court case, another pharmaceutical company tried to create a generic version of the drug using the same color purple. AstraZeneca sued the company and won an injunction, forcing the generic drug maker to choose a different color.

Even having a shade similar to a trademarked color could cause legal trouble for a company if it is promoting similar products and services. In 2013, T-Mobile sued AT&T for infringing upon its trademarked magenta color. A federal judge sided with T-Mobile, saying AT&T’s “plum” was too similar to T-Mobile’s distinctive hue and ordering the company to stop using magenta and similar colors in its marketing and advertising.

Choosing a color to represent your brand – whether you sell jewelry or medication or telecommunications service – carries important ramifications. Clear, consistent use of an established color palette is a vital part of building a brand, as is protecting the usage of that color within the same brand sector. What steps does your company take to ensure that its brand color is protected from competitors?

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