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Can they *DO* that?

By Brian | August 16, 2010 | Share on Facebook

I came across a T-Mobile billboard ad the other day which contained a rather interesting disclaimer:

In case you can’t read it, here it is blown up:

…and in case you can’t read that, here’s what it says:

T-mobile and the magenta color are registered trademarks of Deutsche Telekom AG. (c) 2010 T-Mobile USA, Inc.

So, question: can they really trademark the color magenta? If so, I can see a class-action lawsuit against every kid who ever used a box of Crayola crayons coming. And you thought those RIAA folks were bad…

Topics: Random Acts of Blogging, The World Wide Weird | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Can they *DO* that?”

  1. jason says at August 16th, 2010 at 6:31 pm :
    Ahem. As a professional in the advertising industry, I assure you that they really can trademark a color. Or at least a specific shade of a specific color that distinguishes a given product or brand of products. The color is seen by the law as symbolic for that product or brand.

    The various accounts I work on all have brand guidelines that dictate how ads and other collateral are supposed to look — the idea is to create a unified look for all of a given company’s collateral, using the same fonts, visual elements, etc. — and a PANTONE-coded color (usually several, actually) are almost always specified.

  2. Brian says at August 16th, 2010 at 8:39 pm :
    @Jason #1: I was aware that a company can specify specific colors in their branding (each company I’ve worked for in my career has done just that, in fact), but I wasn’t aware that they could trademark the color for themselves.

    Doesn’t trademarking go beyond insisting that all of their branding use the same color? Doesn’t it imply (or explicitly state) that other companies can’t use that color in their ads? That’s what surprised me. If I had the time (I do not), I’d go looking for magenta in AT&T ads just to see if they’ve tried…

  3. Jeff Porten says at August 16th, 2010 at 9:43 pm :
    IIRC, you can’t *protect* simple design choices like colors or geometrical shapes. AT&T can’t go after a company which uses a sphere logo, although they certainly can if it uses Death Star swoopy bits.

    But announcing that magenta is considered part of their trademark is a way of preventing other people from using similar design characteristics. If you depict a rainbow in your ad for Skype, and one of the stripes is Telekom Magenta, no problem. But if that stripe ends in a magenta square, then you’ve arguably got a problem. Key word is “arguably”: by announcing that magenta is “theirs”, T-Mobile is really saying, “Yes, we have a squadron of lawyers, and we need things for them to do.”

    My guess: there’s more going on with T-Mobile’s logo than most US companies — they use that for all of their European providers as well, which is crucial when you’re dealing with a mobile population which might not speak the language of the countries they visit. If any country spawns either a competitor or a spoofer who appropriates aspects of the logo, that’s a lot of corporate value blown away.

  4. Jeff Porten says at August 16th, 2010 at 9:46 pm :
    PS — you’re aware, of course, that with that nifty Photoshop software you’ve got, you could probably go looking for the use of Telekom Magenta in 1,000 competitor’s ads in an afternoon? Eyedropper –> Create Mask –> see what falls out.

  5. jason says at August 16th, 2010 at 10:58 pm :
    I’ll admit, I don’t understand all the ins and outs of trademark law or practice — my particular expertise is really just making sure that brand names have the correct symbol next to them, the (R) or (TM) things. However, my fuzzy understanding is that the color by itself doesn’t mean anything, but in combination with certain other factors — a brand name, a product photo, a logo — then it comes under trademark protection. In other words, pretty much what Jeff said.

    I do know this was decided by a SCOTUS decision back in the ’90s sometime…


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