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Can a company really own a color?

February 18, 2014

T-Mobile wins civil action suit against Aio Wireless for trademark infringement regarding the use of color.

U.S. District Court Ruling: CIVIL ACTION NO. H-13-2478, T-Mobile US Inc. v. Aio Wireless LLC

“…the court orders that Aio Wireless LLC, its agents, employees, representatives, affiliates, subsidiaries, successors with notice of this order, are enjoined from using large blocks or swaths of Pantone 676C or similar shade, in marketing and advertising, and including but not limited to in-store design, displays, and appearance; television, electronic, and movie commercials; print advertisements; billboards; websites; social media websites; and other promotional materials.”

I’ve read several articles on this court ruling. Several of them make fun of the issue, asking how can a company “own” a color? Those making fun obviously do not know anything about branding. The use of color is an integral part of a company’s brand, and when a competitor uses a similar color that could be confusing to customers, it can be trademark infringement.

Companies spend millions of dollars a year to have brand consistency and be recognized in a crowded market. Not only do they spend money, but it also takes years to gain brand equity. T-Mobile did not become recognized as the magenta mobile phone company overnight. They chose a very distinctive color, that is not widely used in this industry, and consistently used and promoted it over many years. That strategy helped differentiate them from their competition.