Can You Own a Color?

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Color-fans can now channel their fascination into a worthy cause:, sponsored by Glidden Paint, is auctioning off shades of the digital rainbow for charity. For a $2 donation to UNICEF (or more if you wish), you can select and name your very own shade. OwnaColour also provides real-time infographics tracking favorite shades by gender, country and so forth. (Thanks to James Hirschfeld for clueing me in.)

I love the idea – cut to me, bee-lining it to buy the world’s most eccentric shade – but it also got me thinking: can you actually buy colors? Not too long ago I blogged here about International Klein Blue, a patented shade by artist and agent provocateur Yves Klein. Today’s post explores other real-world examples of companies and people trying to do just that.

A much-ballyhooed recent example: in 2010 Cadbury won a legal battle protecting their signature purple (Pantone 2685C) against infringement by Darrell Lea, a New South Wales candy manufacturer whose purple packaging on a certain sweet edged too close to Cadbury Purple for comfort.

The case illustrates a classic way one can “own” a color: trademark a particular shade in a given industry or product category, fund an IP-litigation firm handsomely, and a particular shade can indeed be exclusively yours. Just ask UPS about their brown, McDonald’s about their red-and-yellow, or Coca-Cola about its signature red.

UPS’ campaign “What Can Brown Do for You?” is a fascinating case-in-point. The tagline sparked a whole meme of imitators in unrelated industries, some actual trademark infringements (like New Jersey attorney Samuel Z. Brown’s misuse of the tagline for his website search) to plain spoofs with varying levels of tastefulness. UPS pulled the plug on the campaign after a good long run – 2002 – 2010 – so spoof-sensitivity may or may not have played a role in the decision to move on.

UDS T-Shirt at

From Pittsburgh Steelrs wide receiver Antonio Brown’s site

Other eye-opening takes on the idea of owning a color: BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin used the Cadbury Purple flak as an opportunity to suss out more color-themed trademark controversies. She (and her commenters) unearthed some great ones, including several non-traditional patent cases like pink insulation (Owens-Corning), NBC’s “ding ding ding” sound (Reg. No. 523,616), and plumeria-scented sewing thread (Reg. No. 1,639,128).

Our good buddies at Under Consideration’s Brand New also have eagle-eyes for this sort of thing. My two faves aren’t color-related infringements per se, but still thumping-good reads: IHOP v. IHOP (Prayer v. Pancakes) and the Rat City Roller Derby vs. Starbucks.

Any stellar examples of corporate color-owning we missed?

Poster for Rip! A Remix Manifesto, a film about copyright law by Colin Dunn

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