Marketing team discussing color

On Color Branding: Are You Allowed to Use Trademarked Colors?

In Creative by Marc

Imagine walking down the street and seeing sloppily drawn images on a pristine white wall. A black apple. A pair of yellow arches. A Tiffany blue box.

While these may be the farthest things from poster ads, you can’t help thinking about the brands associated with these objects. You are instantly reminded of their products. You might even be in the mood to buy a burger or check out a gift for your special someone.

In these images, color conveys meaning even without words. It’s the brand image element that people perceive first and remember the most. Research has shown that a signature color can even increase brand recognition by 80%.

Trademarked Colors

Brands are well-aware that color is critical to building brand identity, so much so that some trademark their logo’s colors. Colors are not included in the statutory definition of trademarks, but businesses can obtain trademark protection for certain colors if they’re not functional, meaning they aren’t essential to the product or service or affect quality.

For instance, lawn mowing companies can’t trademark the color green because it’s the color of lawns. Trademark protection might not be approved for a red filter on the end of a flashlight, because it serves as a safety and warning light.

Additionally, color marks require proof of secondary meaning. This means that over time, through the use of color on a specific product, people have associated the color with the particular brand.

Colors aren’t as definite as shapes and words, though. A lemon yellow might look different from one person to the other. So courts use concrete standards to define colors, such as the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a set of 1,114 colors people use to match colors. In trademarks, parties use it to identify the scope of protection and check for trademark infringement.

Can You Use Trademarked Colors?

A trademark doesn’t mean a business owns the color. So, any business can use a trademarked color provided that it doesn’t belong in the same industry as the brand who sought trademark protection.

For instance, Target can’t sue Coca-Cola for using a similar shade of red because they’re not in the same industry and they don’t sell the same products. But if you’re selling chocolate, using Cadbury’s trademarked purple will land you in hot water.

The Colors to Consider

In building your brand image, you might have a lot of colors in mind. Here’s a list of some trademarked colors.

  • Tiffany & Co. – Tiffany Blue (PMS 1837)
  • Home Depot – Orange (PMS 165)
  • Target – Red (PMS 186C)
  • Christian Louboutin – Red (PMS 18-1663 TCX)
  • John Deere – Green (PMS 364C) and Yellow (PMS 109C) Color Scheme
  • Caterpillar – Yellow (PMS 14-0848 TCX)
  • Cadbury – Purple (PMS 2685C)
  • UPS – Brown (PMS 476C)

There’s a positive side to having to steer clear of trademarked colors, of course. You have the chance to cement a unique brand image that won’t be associated with other businesses in your industry.

Need help building your brand’s image? Let XXIIBrands assist. We provide corporate identity design, website design and development, and branding and positioning services to connect you with your audience. Call us today.