Trademarking a colour is not an easy job as Cheerios - and many other brands - found out. The packaged food giant recently lost a battle to trademark the colour yellow for its boxes. The court ruled that too many cereal brands were already using the colour yellow. As a result, customers are unlikely to perceive the colour as an indicator of the brand. But why are brands finding it so difficult to win the colour they want?
The reason is simple. Customers do not see non-traditional trademarks like product shape or colour as trademarks. Therefore, proving that the public can recognise colour as the mark of a brand is extremely difficult.
In 1995, the US Supreme Court ruled that a single colour could be trademarked so long as it had "distinctiveness" in the marketplace. The ruling followed a 10-year protracted case involving Owens Corning which was trying to register the colour pink that it used in its fibreglass insulation.
Tiffany & Co's robin's egg blue, AstraZeneca's purple for its heart remedy, Christian Louboutin's red soled shoes are all examples of the importance of colour in a brand's life. The only way that a brand can trademark its colour is only if the "trademark owner can show that the consumer, upon seeing the colour used in connection with the goods or services, views the colour not as merely ornamental but, rather, as a means of indicating the origin of those goods or services."
Cheerios, in the meantime, is not giving up yet. The General Mills brand is working on a plan to protect its iconic colour.