Red Alert

7 colours that might get you sued in the US

Big business is very territorial about its trademarks – especially in the States…

CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN RECENTLY won the right to trademark its red heels, spurring questions about what else can be branded. Earlier this week, Cadburys managed to hold on to Pantone 2685C (a very royal purple) as a corporate trademark in the advertising of chocolate bars and drinks in the UK.

Well, actually, a lot else – sounds, shapes, symbols, and even colours can be trademarked.

Don’t confuse the term “trademark” with ownership of colour though. Trademarking a colour simply allows a company to use a particular combination and shade of colour in its own industry.

For example, when in 2008, T-Mobile threatened to sue Engadget for using “its” magenta, the tech website sort of laughed it off.

So, how far would a company go to protect its brand? The United States has one of the most competitive markets in patents and trademarks…. as these examples show:

7 colours that might get you sued in the US
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  • Brown: 'Owned' by UPS

    UPS has used the color for its trucks since 1916, when it was called Pullman brown. The reason the company chose brown is "that it was the epitome of luxury at the time," a former UPS executive told The New York Times in 1998. (Image: Daniel Goodman/Business Insider)
  • Magenta: 'Owned' by T-Mobile

    T-Mobile and its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, have had a few run-ins with other companies using "its" magenta. In one case, T-Mobile sent a letter to, defending its trademark on the color and asking the website to stop using magenta in the lettering on its Engadget Mobile section. The reason? Well, the German mobile provider didn't want customers to confuse the two brands—a cell company and a tech website. (Image: T-Mobile)
  • Tiffany Blue: 'Owned' by Tiffany & Co.

    Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the color for the cover of Blue Book, the company's annual catalogue of "exquisitely handcrafted jewels," first published in 1845. "Tiffany Blue" was later used on everything from shopping bags and jewellery boxes to any sort of advertising for the company. (Image: Samantha Celera/Flickr)
  • Orange: "Owned" by Home Depot

    Homer TLC, the company behind Home Depot, has a trademark on the colour orange when used as the background of advertising, lettering, or other signage, according to the US Patent & Trademark Office. (Image: hamedog/Flickr)
  • Green and yellow combo: "Owned" by John Deere

    Deere & Company's leaping deer symbol, name, and green and yellow color scheme have become perhaps synonymous with outdoor power equipment. That is why the company owns the rights to all three of these, prohibiting any other such machinery maker from using them separately or combined. (Image: dmott9/Flickr)
  • Caterpillar yellow: "Owned" by Caterpillar Inc.

    The company prohibits anyone from using its distinct "Caterpillar Yellow" without its permission. (Image: SoulRider.222/Flickr)
  • Purple: "Owned" by 3M

    "The color PURPLE is a trademark of 3M," reads a 3M box, BoingBoing reported in 2010. And while the trademark is real, you can still go ahead and legally paint your room purple; miscellaneous product company 3M can't sue because you aren't trade competitors. Following the same logic, Prince does not have to, as one BoingBoing commenter suggested, change his song's title to "3M Rain." (Image:

- Aleksi Tzatzev

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