Trademarking colour

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POSTED: October 1, 2021

I did not realise that trademarks have spread to include colours. How naive of me.

Sometime last week I read on the BBC website that

A multinational confectionery company has threatened legal action against a London vegan snack maker over the colour of one of its fruit bars.

Mondelez alleges that Primal Pantry’s cocoa bar “exploits” the trademark of its Milka chocolate range.

Lawyers for Mondelez are demanding the use of lilac packaging for the bar must stop, warning of a £5,200 penalty each time the trademark is infringed.

Nurture Brands, which owns Primal Pantry, denies “hurting” the trademark.

Later in the article a spokeswoman for Mondelez said:

We own a colour trademark in Europe for the distinctive lilac Milka colour for food products.

As a matter of practice, to protect the values of our brands which we have worked hard to build over hundreds of years, we express our concerns to third parties when we feel they are using a protected brand element.

We have opened up conversations with Primal Pantry to try and resolve the matter amicably.”

I then decided to explore, and I found an explanation at

A color trademark is different. In this case, the color is the brand. The use of the color in a market sector is protected by trademark. For example, when you see chocolate candy in a purple wrapper, you know it’s Cadbury: when you see a turquoise box for jewelry, you know it’s from Tiffany & Co.

However, Cadbury’s purple is protected by trademark only for chocolate products. Anyone else can use the color purple. For example, Royal Motor Oil and Nexium (pills) use purple in their brand.

Until the 1980s, U.S. law refused to recognize a single color as a brand. However, color combinations, had long been protectable. This changed when Owens-Corning launched the “Think Pink” campaign for its fiberglass building insulation. In 1985, a U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the company had the right to prevent others from using pink for insulation.

Years later, in another case, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated that a single color can indeed be a brand, so long as the public strongly associates the color and the specific product and that the color is in no way functional.

So now you know.