Color: The Next Limited Resource?

Color: The Next Limited Resource?

As a designer, it is important to be aware of the trending colors, and how they are being applied in products and work produced today. What really isn’t being discussed by the design world at large though are the limitations being set on color. Color is as free for us to use as the air we breathe… or is it?

The color palette is shrinking. It could affect the foundation of design for everything from websites to fashion. The fate of businesses and billions of dollars ride on choosing the right one. We’ll take a look at how color is becoming the next limited resource.

Limit: One Spectrum per World

Color is limited by what our eyes can see. It’s the visible light spectrum (wavelengths of light) our eyes can detect.

On one end of the spectrum lies red (longer wavelengths) and on the other blue (shorter wavelengths); everything in between those are the colors we find in nature.

The visible spectrum.The visible spectrum.

Although this spectrum we have available is limited, we still do have a lot of choice when it comes to color. We attempt to reproduce this spectrum in printing, monitors, paintings, and so on. The difference in the way a monitor displays color versus a printed brochure is a world away and more technical than most people would want to worry themselves with.

One company is responsible for connecting this vast chasm of color. Pantone.

Color by Any Other Name Would Be Pantone


If there is anyone that could say they own color, it would be Pantone. They have a monopoly on it in the truest sense. Every color you have ever seen used has been indexed and named by Pantone.

What Pantone has done is not a bad thing; in fact, it has done the world (especially designers) a favor. They have taken color from a chaotic Tower of Babel scenario with everyone talking about colors in very different ways and brought us all on to the same page. Literally. Their paint chip and fabric swatch books sit on the desks of designers everywhere.

Pantone’s system allows for a design agency in Chicago to make sure the color they specified for a brand is printed accurately in a magazine by publication in Europe, and looks the same in television spot being created by a firm in Los Angeles.

As J.C. Herz of Wired put it, "If color is a language, Pantone is the Oxford English Dictionary."

The Battle for Color

For companies, color has become one of the most important identifiers. More often than not, colors are how you recognize and associate products to that brand.

Marketing research has found 80% of visual information is related to color. It’s not just a green, a red, a blue, or a magenta. It’s "Starbucks Green", "Coke Red", "Gap Blue", and "T-Mobile Magenta."

Separating colors from their brands is close to impossible.Separating colors from their brands is close to impossible.

The inseparable color and brand association (above) have become a legal reality. Brands are putting a stake in the spectrum and claiming that color for their own use. An infographic of what this looks like was in Wired magazine in June of 2003.

Wired infographic.Wired infographic showing the "color location" of the world’s biggest brands.

T-Mobile owns the color Magenta

The most interesting and polemic story of a brand buying and claiming a color space is with T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom). They have trademarked the color magenta.

Yes, T-Mobile owns the rights to magenta.

They have been enforcing this over the years suing companies like a book-on-demand publisher, and most recently, in the blog Engadget Mobile.

T-mobile magenta.

To clarify, companies like T-mobile can only trademark in the industry sector that they are registered in. So T-Mobile has trademarked the color magenta in telecommunications. The blog COLOURLovers says that this means, "you just can’t use the color magenta around anything to do with phones, digital media… oh and just about anything on the internet."

What’s in a name?

What's in a name?

In addition to a trademarked color, some companies are also trademarking the actual name of the color.

The insulation company Owens–Corning, known for their The Pink Panther commercials, have registered the term "PINK" (in capital letters only) in reference to its insulation.

UPS is one of the best-known companies of the world, shipping us our goods ordered from across the world to our doorstep. They trademarked the slogan "What can Brown do for you?"

The Europe-based mobile network operator and internet service provider, Orange, uses the color Orange both in its logo and as the trademarked company name.

The Color of Money

Not only are companies trademarking existing colors, but they are producing new colors, naming them, and trademarking them.

Jay-Z, the hip-hop artist and entrepreneur, collaborated with the car company GMC to do just that. Together with GMC’s Global Color Studio, they produced a blue hue called "Jay-Z Blue." It was used on the 2007 GMC Yukon Denali.

Jay-Z Blue.Jay-Z debuts the 2007 GMC Yukon Denali painted with his "Jay-Z Blue" color.

This idea of mixing a color and patenting it is not entirely new. The French artist, Yves Klein (known for minimalist monochromatic paintings), primarily started using his signature mixed blue in 1958. It is called International Klein Blue (IKB) and has been used in the fashion world.

Who owns color?

These trends in limiting color usage and the rights that brands have to trademark colors is a difficult road to navigate. Not everyone is well versed in trademark laws and intellectual property rights.

On one side, companies need to protect their brand identity, which they’ve invested much capital into. On the other side, there are designers and artists trying to create great work with a limited color palette.

There of course is a fear that at some point, the best color hues will have been claimed and there would be no other good colors left to design with. How likely is this scenario? As likely as anyone would have imagined being sued by T-mobile for using the color magenta.


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About the Author

Francisco Inchauste is a web and interaction designer whose work you can find over at his online presence – Finch. By day, he works as a UX specialist for Universal Mind. He’s written for various design weblogs such as Smashing Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter.

This was published on Nov 11, 2009


This is scary news — who wants to worry extra about what color or colors they pick out for their business designs and who might already claim that color. Limited colors – doesn’t sound good.

adrian Nov 11 2009

Why do massive companies stop at just trademarking a colour, why not trademark the name as well?

“Wow what a beautiful blue sky” I’m sorry we trademarked the term blue you can not use that!

It’s getting beyond a joke. Like Cadbury trademarking the colour purple.

Maybe in 2100 we will be back to 256 web colours as we aren’t aloud to use the others.

Design Informer Nov 11 2009

WOW! That’s crazy. T-Mobile can do that? Great article. Very well researched.

“Every color you have ever seen used has been indexed and named by Pantone.”

This is a ridiculous statement. And completely untrue.

Briannotbryan Nov 11 2009

None of this surprises me anymore. The media giants coming in and ruining the day for the little people that have only good intentions.

Richard Nov 11 2009

Good insight, Francisco. I find the contrast between Pantone’s catalogue of colors as a unifying resource and others’ legal claiming of colors as a devicive differentiator fascinating. I admire your objectivity here. Personally, I think that our patent and trademark systems allowing entities to claim exclusive rights to the use of a color is reprehensible.

h1brd Nov 11 2009

I’m still looking at this article with my jaw dropped. Was really not even a slight bit aware of this scenario. What a heads up…Awesome read.

The Corporate World is becoming ever more powerful and greedy. Welcome to the Dark Side.

Alison Rowan Nov 11 2009

I think you’ve raised a very good, but very scary point. The fact that T-Mobile managed to score magenta all for themselves is ridiculous. If that’s do-able now, it shouldn’t be long before there aren’t any colours left to use, as you’ve said. Not to mention there’s a massive grey area – just how close to a trademarked colour can you get? Is a shade darker scraping by, within the law? I think there are just too many question marks. Colours shouldn’t be trademarkable.

Interesting post, thanks. I’m wondering how this will play out.

Bogdan Pop Nov 12 2009

I too got my company’s logo + it’s two colors trademarked. Any other company using green and black for IT or advertising in Romania should consider changing them. If they don’t, I could sue them…

Bogdan Pop Nov 12 2009

Adrian, things are not that bad. Tmobile registered their color code + name or logo or both all together, not separately, so using their color with a total different name for Telecomunications would be ok. The rule here states that you’re fine as long as you know a judge can’t say your combination placed next to tmobile in a supermarket for example won’t confuse the customer as to who is who and what they do.

rayvolvez Nov 12 2009

This is insane. I didn’t even know that I’m not allowed to use Magenta on the internet (for websites).

Colours is part of our visual sense, no one should claim any. Its a NATURAL resource available to all.

Why dont we just find the people responsible for this type of idiocy and shove a giant t-mobile color boot up their ass?

Thats not even a joke. We’re quickly moving to a society where you, and newer generations without inheritance, will be nothing more than slaves to the ownerships of others.

Sooner or later something is going to snap – and it might as well be today, and it might as well be my foot up someones ass.

P.S. Im claiming copywrite on that expression right now, so dont use it or ill sue you so bad you’ll wish I had my boot up your ass.

In practical terms, what does it mean? Can I not use magenta to design my web menu? Can I not use magenta in all my H1 tag? Can I not use magenta as the background of my web page (though I will hate it)? Can some one please explain what does it all mean to web page designers.

This is absolutely ridiculous. The world has gone bonkers.

michael Nov 12 2009

Color adds some punch to life

Mr. Shower Stall Nov 12 2009

I wonder how many colors crayola owns?

sobank Nov 12 2009

Blame it on the law. And I better go and tell my kids to hide the pink marker before pink panther comes knocking on the door for color piracy.

MicroAngelo Nov 12 2009

Whilst the copyright/patent system is clearly completely insane to any rational person (see software, gene patents) and the trademarking of a common colour abhorrent, I would question the author’s assumptions on the number of colours still available to us.

The visible spectrum may be ‘limited’ in the sense that it has upper and lower bounds (aka ultra-violet and infra-red parts of the spectrum), it is still an analogue continuum inside those bounds – in the same way as there are infinite ‘numbers’ between 1 and 2. (Just as we know there are more than the 7 named by Newton as ROYGBIV in defference to the musical scale.)

Of course there are limits to what the average person can differentiate, but just remember that even in the RGB colour model commonly used by computer graphics cards – and incapable of displaying swathes of the visible spectrum (e.g. saturated yellow) – the 24-bit ‘Truecolor’ standard allows for 16,777,216 color variations. So if a couple are off-limits we still have 16.7 million others to choose from.

For now our biggest hinderances as to the use of colour will continue to be the limitations of display and print technologies and our own imaginations.

[And for those wanting to be blown away by further reading, research tetrachromatic women!]

Funny, what about prior art? As in, that color existed before we were human. The trademarking of colors should not be legal, regardless of indu$try influences. What a sham, a shame really.

Ryan, I can’t tell if you’re joking or not. This is the internet, where Poe’s Law is in full effect.

Kirk Gaughan Nov 12 2009

T-Mobile can do that because no one else is out in magenta land. Are the blue companies bickering over colors?

I wonder just how close to T-Mobile magenta do you have to get to before you get into trouble? We all know how hard it is to get colors to match across different mediums. It seems you could offer evidence of the various T-Mobile applications of magenta from various sources from newspaper to LCD, and argue there is no consistent standard from which to base their claim of ownership. At least I hope so.

ashok pai Nov 12 2009

It is utterly ridiculous to have copyright over colors. Ip will be the next palce where wars will be fought, not water or land, or other resources. I’d say hurrah to piracy, if the monopolies become absolute; because there’s no meaning in such absurdity of a company owning a color!

gemmes Nov 12 2009

Yes, T-Mobile own Magenta. They threatened to sue a company I was working at because I used a red/pink colour in some links (for Telecoms related industry).

Best of all the company I was at had been around for longer than T-mobile and regularly used magenta. However, boss caved because as he had a merger pending and didnt want the hassle to affect merger.

The colour I used was also a completely different hue, not even similar to T-mobile.

Design Ideas Nov 12 2009

The color is an everything!

Paul_83uk Nov 12 2009

wow! a scary thought that you could have things like trademarks to consider when choosing colour for design.

On the other side of it I can understand for major branding and logo colours this is fair, colour is powerful thing you do associate it with companies. So why would competing companies choose a similar colour? Except to associate themselves with the bigger company?

How stupid is this. Is magenta invented by Tmobile? How they block any majanta reletaed with telecom? They can register letter style with the color. But how is the entire color.

Elena Nov 12 2009

Wow, Imagine if these companies did begin suing others for use of ‘their’ colour. I suppose if only 1 or 2 were found to be using ‘owned’ colours …. Hehe, imagine if the list of ‘trademark law breakers’ ran into the millions, how long would it take to sue them all …. and how much would it cost to sue them all? Hmmm, I like magenta and orange & red (is that owned too??) … I’m off to paint a portrait of my mobile phone in magenta – it’ll look cute :)

Eric Huber Nov 12 2009

Someone, please, commission a photo of the Blue Man Group in handcuffs for trademark violation.

I think if someone stood up to this in court, they would definitely loose UNLESS they were deliberately trying to ride on the coattails of the other company, like…a magenta logo with C-Mobile or something.

Zoe Feast Nov 12 2009

Crazy…trademarking a color, and something so fundamental as magenta. My company is called Indigo Image. Maybe I need to bag the use of Indigo right now.

Trademarking colors? Good grief! What next? I’m with “Anon” above:
“Why dont we just find the people responsible for this type of idiocy and shove a giant t-mobile color boot up their ass?

Thats not even a joke. We’re quickly moving to a society where you, and newer generations without inheritance, will be nothing more than slaves to the ownerships of others.

Sooner or later something is going to snap – and it might as well be today, and it might as well be my foot up someones ass.

P.S. Im claiming copywrite on that expression right now, so dont use it or ill sue you so bad you’ll wish I had my boot up your ass.”

vytah Nov 12 2009

“Color or colour is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, yellow, blue and others. Color derives from the spectrum of light (distribution of light energy versus wavelength) interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors.”
So, if I were colour-blind, I could see T-Mobile’s magenta identically with Starbucks’ green. Every person sees colour differently, how dare they trademark processes that happen in my own eye!?

When I came across the post on engadget about the Magenta trademark, the first thought that came to mind was, why would a trademarking/copyrighting agency even entertain things like that. It is absolutely stupid IMO to grant rights like that. Like another commenter suggested we’ll probably be down to 256 colors or less if we keep letting these morons getting away with something like this.

Architela Nov 12 2009

Frightening. Odd that this doesn’t seem to extend to domain names (for example T-Mobile does not seem to own

phodd Nov 12 2009

Was there an intended – albeit tenuous – irony in the fact that the group of blue logos is shaped like Great Britain… or that for some reason the red logos have been arranged in a group not unlike the shape of South America?

It just struck me as odd when I saw that graphic.

Food for thought: Can islands and continents copyright their shapes? How much more right do the aforementioned landmasses have to their shape than some monopolistic corporation has to a colour?

How do we determine ‘similarity’ or lack of? Africa and Australia are eerily similar in shape for instance. Should one sue the other?

Could I start a telecommunications company that uses a dark shade of magenta in its logo rather than the light shade used by T-Mobile?

Anne D Nov 12 2009

Personally, I have no problem with JayZ trademarking a particular color of blue. In the case of T-Mobile, I agree with BogdanPop that they have not trademarked the entire spectrum of magenta. In my opinion, it is a clear case of a big corporation throwing its weight around, and a legal department trying to justify its existence. Hopefully, any lawsuit making it to court will be thrown out.

John G Nov 12 2009

I had no idea things had gone this far. I wish I could say I was surprised, but no…

AliciaO Nov 12 2009

Here’s a question… What happens when someone trademarks black?

I work in the print industry, and magenta is as fundamental in 4/6 colour process as black.

Trademarking a particular PANTONE colour? Fine. But the colour magenta? What does that even mean? 100% percent magenta?

After reading this I feel very much like I should have pursued a career in IP law instead on graphic arts. :/

Scott Nov 12 2009

There is a work around that no one has thought of including the corporations. Yes they can trademark a colour what they forget is Tints and Shades.

everyone knows Pantone can be easily edited to be a percentage of the true value which in fact makes it a diffeernt colour.

Adding any other value such as white does in fact make it a Tint and a different colour so go head use Magenta at 99% it then is no longer Magenta.


Do some research into trademark law. T-Mobile’s TM on magenta is only for their specific industry. It is to prevent samsung and nokia from using magenta in their advertisements to confuse the public as to the source of services. IF you wanted to paint a car magenta, or create a magenta artwork, T-Mobile will not be able to stop you from doing so. To TM a color, a person has to show that the general public associates the color with the person’s good/service which isn’t easy to do. As far as color depletion in a specific industry, read the supreme court case concerning qualitex.

Dave K Nov 12 2009

This article shows a gross missunderstanding of both the Pantone color system and it’s VERY limited scope as well as the trademark system. Colors themselves are NOT trademarkable without context. Regardless they would be relegated to the 2nd register.

The wired infographic showing logos grouped by the color they use is awesome!

Nice post and very insane & foolishness of T-Mobile. This doesn’t hold at all. Its something like this, if coke is red then you cannot use red in flowers, candies, dresses.Imagine if someone buys White? Guess, If some has bought the moon, and you are not allowed to see it. They are going to sue the sun for causing lunar eclipse
I will never abide to these king of property trademark. They are in corrent. Has anyone seen if T-Mobile has actually got the trademark or its just a hoax. Whatever may be I am goona use the same magenta color in my next project.

Moreover they cannot copyright a color by its name, they need to mention the Hex value. The T-mobile logo itself show a different colors in different system and website.

fight for its guys.

That is just plain ridiculous!!!!

Does this mean that someone just as likely could trademark a alphabet glyph? Now, that would have serious consequences!

Mike S Nov 13 2009

This is nothing to get alarmed by, and very easy to get around. For example T-Mobile and it’s trademark color isn’t really true magenta, it’s somewhere between that and pink. Solution: Use a color that is a perceptable amount of nanometers away from thier color, result- sorry T-Mobile, I’m not using your color, yours is 5nm less than mine.
Legally, like frequencies in the radio spectrum, we just need to quantify the amount of separation to make it work out. And there must be a million shades of magenta to choose from.

Hieronymous Cowherd Nov 13 2009

You are aware that you’ve made the two examples of T-Mobile magenta completely different colours?

Lukas Damgaard Nov 13 2009

Hey . if i one day by any chance win the lottery,
i will bye as many colors i can and make them FREE for everybody to use :)

maybe that could be a solution. have a “designers Year” where every designer in the world donated 15% (what do i know) of all theyr income, And then together we all bought the colors and set them free.

I hope the future never gets as Messed up as this article predicts.. i really do.

Michael C Nov 13 2009

I find it absolutely appalling that a company could be granted a trademark over a freaking color. I would love to file and hold trademarks over common adjectives in the English language.

DlibrarieD Nov 13 2009

Next time they will trademark english words? =) yeah right

alicia lee wade Nov 13 2009

i love the touch on and forefront of “the visual spectrum” !

Bodgan Pop Nov 13 2009

T-Mobile does NOT OWN a color! That is not legal in EU, US or anywhere in the world. Just check OAMI’s database for this and T-Mobile has many registered trademarks, some are in the process of being registered etc.

T-Mobile has a word-registered trademark, exactly T-Mobile for usage in the 35/42 Vienna classes and more. This means that nobody can use a similar word (in written or pronunciation) in IT, scientific or advertising means.

Similarly, T-mobile has a figurative trademark ( registered on the same Vienna classes as above, meaning that nobody can use a similar representation for IT, scientific or advertising means. By similar I mean not just the same color, but the same color, same layout, same font, same phonetics for the text in the logo. I needed to emphasize on this because you can use the magenta T-Mobile uses if your company’s name is Digital Media written in pink with a white background.

So, for the last time, you CAN USE MAGENTA everywhere you want, unless it is combined with something and may confuse users/customers/site visitors that your company is T-mobile. The perfect example would be Adibas and Adidas and the list goes on. Adibas here is illegally used because it is too similar to Adidas. Using MAGENTA in IT is NOT ILLEGAL because T-Mobile has a logo as trademark, not a color.

And one more example (however I have no sources for this). A couple of years ago, a Romanian communications company was acquired by Vodafone (who have a RED logo), and with that acquisition Vodafone entered the Romanian market. Now, for many years before that existed another communications company in Romania: Zapp Mobile ( who also have a RED logo. Vodafone sued, they lost, because they don’t own RED as T-Mobile doesn’t own Magenta. Now, both Vodafone and Zapp continue using red because their logo’s fonts phonetics of name are not similar at all!
PS: Jacob, if you could emphasize this comment somehow I’d appreciate. People need to know about this otherwise everyone will panic with regard to trademarks.

Nadya Quintanilla Nov 13 2009

Great post, Color is a wonderful way to Express on branding!

Thanks for this excellent article. It helped me understand a couple of things I was having questions about. Here in Australia – ANZ Bank has the trademark over a blue colour. I recently noticed it and wanted to know how that could be possible, this article explains a lot.

Very interesting…

This would be fun to fight in court. I could kick butt in a big way.

Shane Davis Nov 14 2009

Yet another example of Big Business making sure we can’t function in our everyday lives without paying homage to them.

Sorry, T-Mobile, but magenta was the name on a pencil crayon long before you came around. To hell with your “trademarks” – the people are not going to succumb to that bull. Blue is blue. It is not a brand name. Stop trying to commodify absolutely every aspect of the world you can.

Sanbor Nov 15 2009

Last update: T-mobile also registered the T, so you can’t use anymore. 7ake care

Autonomy Nov 15 2009

Thanks Francisco for collecting a variety of informative articles regarding this subject. This indeed is a very sad and scary topic. Oh, and screw T-Mobile.

Surendra Chaurasiya Nov 16 2009

Does this mean that one fine day, designers would be left with no colors left in the pallet? That coz all the colors, one after another will be trademarked by these corpo giants? Do these so called companies even care, where this move will end up? I want to call these real idiots! Magenta your ass! Did T-Mobile INVENTED magenta or Pantone the rest of color palate? It’s a natural resource! How the heck are they claiming for rights on the color? Everyone in this world are supposed to have equal rights over every color, who the heck are these corporate to delimit eveyone else by using a particular color or shape (yes that’s true, shapes also have been claimed by a company in India). I want to kick these idiots who are taking such decisions or helping to make this happen…

Kerry Rego Nov 16 2009

Example Kellogg’s orange anyone? I can’t even find the original filing of their trademark on their shade of orange. Only within their industry, but it is one of the oldest examples of color trademarking.

mrak911 Nov 16 2009

I wonder how many colors crayola owns?

digital design Nov 16 2009

That is really interesting, if you relate it to the health industry where most people go for green then if someone claimed it would all those people currently using green in their designs have to change it?

Armen Shirvanian Nov 16 2009

Hi Francisco.

I like seeing stuff like this. This is where real competition is, in items like battling for color control. These are the types of business battles you don’t see unless you are looking closely or get informed like this.

It’s also interesting to see how most of the biggest brands are mainly text in some font, on a colored background. Simple sure is popular.

Cristina Nov 16 2009

So, I have a question, who are the people that are letting companies ‘own’ colors? Because those people need some serious talking to.

And I find it ridiculous that if I ever make a website, I’ll probably get sued by some big company like Tmobile just because I use their mascot color.

vdmokstati Nov 17 2009

It comes down to this. Corporations are aiming to get into people’s consciousness through the use of specific colour. Colour they didn’t actually create or invent if you break it down to it. In nature, its all part of the spectrum that we can perceive.

I think Law makers are pushing the boundaries that will be self inflicting onto themselves if they continue in a fashion like this. This comes across as unethical and immoral!

Steve Nov 17 2009

This article ON THE INTERNET has MAGENTA in it – HELLO T-Mobile are you seeing this!!!

Darren Nov 18 2009

Even though it’s been said numerous times it seems the point still hasn’t got through to some people!

The colour is not unusable once it has been trademarked. If you’re starting a mobile telecommunications company and you’re designing your branding stay away from T-Mobile magenta, it’s in your best interest, who wants to be mistaken for another company? If you’re not going for world telecommunications then use Magenta to your hearts content, paint your whole site Magenta, T-Mobile can’t and won’t do a thing!

The point is that the companies that are trademarking a colour are generally trademarking one particular shade of one particular colour, with the name of the company attached and only applying within the industry that they compete in. They are not removing use of that colour in it’s entirety for perpetuity!

Coke, Starbucks, Gap, T-mobile, Cadbury or Orange have no say whatsoever in what colour you use in your next project, unless of course you’re going to be silly enough to compete with them in the same industry using their branding…and if you’re stupid enough to do that then to be honest you deserve to be sued =)

As for naming colours, David Hockney has “Hockney Blue” along with a whole pile of other artists, naming of colours in art is a tribute or an inherent signature where you can tell an artists work based only on the colour used.

Dulux and other paint companies have named colours. This does not mean that I can’t use that colour in something else, I just can’t sell a paint called the same thing which is exactly the same colour. I could use ‘Jay-Z Blue’ anytime I wish, unless I am a car manufacturer that isn’t GMC. I could be Ford and make a colour the exact same +/- a couple of hex numbers and call it “Dre Blue” they can’t sue me!

People stop panicing your colour choices are still your own!

Preservative Woman Nov 18 2009

Yes, I agree with Darren.

Pantone defined a set of standards for color reproduction. These standards relate to the processes and chemical composition of pigments used in inks, paints, and for physical products impregnated with color. I don’t see where this is any different than trademarks and patents relating to the processes of other compounds in other industries.

Pigments only reproduce a very small subset of the visual spectrum; to say Pantone has defined every color we have ever used is definitely hyperbole.

Furthermore, while aspects of the Pantone system may be proprietary, the actual portions of the color spectrum are definitely not. Pantone is also one of a number of color matching systems.

Next, T-Mobile has a trademark on a particular shade of magenta used within its trademark. This is neither new nor is it uncommon. They’ve sued two companies for using this exact shade, one of whom was a competitor. They’re not suing everyone left and right. And to have a successful lawsuit, they need to prove you’re using this shade in a fashion that will infringe upon their trademark.

Arguably, a small business would have to settle rather than wage a costly fight, but that’s true for any sort of legal claim made by a large corporation against a private individual or small business; the problem there is with the system, not use of color.

Finally, I believe a color like Jay-Z Blue likely represents a specific custom combination of chemicals to produce a blue pigment. Pantone colors are standardized, but there’s nothing preventing anyone from grinding their own pigments and creating custom paint or ink colors…and trademarking that shade for a specific use.

This is not to say the article is without merit.

Graphic artists must be aware of the competitor’s color choices when specifying palettes for business identities, especially when working with larger businesses, or in highly competitive industries prone to litigation (hmm…that’s all of them anymore, isn’t it?).

It is something to consider, but ultimately, design first, and revise if necessary. If nothing else, it’s good ammo against clients who want you to “make it look just like their logo, only different”!

I appreciate the author’s zeal, and I agree, the current copyright and trademark systems have many problems. I don’t mean to be rude, but try to dig a little further next time; sensationalism will not solve the issues, OK?

/Caveat: I am not employed as a lawyer, artist, or anything else at the moment. Yikes, what a first comment. Gulp.

Preservative Woman Nov 18 2009

As a follow up to my last comment, I just found this article on Engadget that explains the situation with T-Mobile very clearly.

I believe the author, Nilay Patel, is also an attorney: [link]

I just trademarked white, mwahaha! evil laughter.
white is the mix of all colors, I am the master!

leigh ann Nov 20 2009

Francisco, I’m 100% positive T-Mobile only has the right to sue companies who use Magenta in the Telecommunications industry – to say this would carry over into “all things digital” is a sweeping and false statement. Interesting article – but you should really get your facts straight first.

Also – this is nothing new, shocking or even “wrong”. Companies need to protect their brands. Disney has been doing this for years – suing even daycare centers for using their characters. It may sound ridiculous, but if you don’t protect your brand, you lose it – plain and simple. There is a reason why when you see “Red” you think of coke.
They’ve protected their brand, as they should and have the right to do.

really a new lesson for me, even color can be trademarked.
crazy world, crazy commercial.

ezaricos Nov 25 2009

Only original man made creations should be pattented. Pattenting a color is as ridiculous as pattenting a plant or ingredient, wich is actually happening with some species from the Amazon.

a dot s Dec 01 2009

You do know that they are also copyrighting parts of the genome, some plants like soy are practically under the control of large corporations. Soon we wont be able to think without being threatened with a law suit.

The world is a ridiculous place these days… imagine a time when you have to pay a company because your kid has the blue eye gene and another company because the eyes are blue and another company because when your kid was born you thought “hey this kids eyes are blue”

James Warfield Dec 02 2009

I saw this note in the footer of recently. It caused a stir in the studio. How would T-Mobile like this?…

“”, “lastminute” and the colour magenta are all trade marks owned by Last Minute Network Limited and/or its group companies.

Colour is one thing that absolutely should not be ‘trademarkable’.

RingerMe Dec 03 2009

If you make a magenta poop, is that covered under parody?

What’s the point of this “article”? If you have an opinion, state it. If you want to write a well-researched article, you’re going to have to do some research. This reads like stream of consciousness rambling, like a poorly written junior high school assignment on a subject with which one continues to be essentially unfamiliar.

simbel Dec 05 2009

The author really should do more research and gather more information and facts the next time before he creates an absurdly sensationalist article. Like several commenters above,
I also think that the point of trademarking has been missed. Fazer have trademarked their signature blue colour for years and are proud of that – all it does is protecting their particular brand of chocolate from copycats, who might wrap their own choccy in blue just to get more attention from customers who associate that colour with the quality of Fazer. It does NOT make them the sole owner of rich blue colour in Finland or in fact anywhere else. Get your facts straight.

Mrs Comment Dec 07 2009

Pantone All your colors are belong to us!

mrmment Dec 11 2009

I vote to get rid of green. Way overrated and who really needs it when you have yellow and blue…

mrcommenter Dec 11 2009

I slapped my knee after I read that……. oh not because it was knee slapping funny, but because I saw a bug crawling up my leg. Get it?

Javier Mateos Dec 25 2009

Holy camole. We should start the concept “CMYK-Peace”… hmmm I think I’ll trademark this concept! :)

Doug S. Dec 25 2009

Firstly, There are 15.6 million HEX values so we screen people are safe for a very, very long time.

Secondly, I give it a few more years before someone says, “You can’t own a color.” and the issue is solved that way.

Honestly, why are we getting bothered?

Linus Bohman Dec 26 2009

While I don’t share the zeal, it’s a well-written article. I wish you would’ve clarified the Magenta case better like other commenters have pointed out. Intellectual rights is an interesting and difficult topic, and even more so for designers. Many want to protect the work they do while still retaining as much creative freedom as possible. A split duality, I think.

btorbo Dec 26 2009

Trademarking color? That’s just downright retarded. I’ll still use magenta (or every other color known to man for that matter) every day of the week and twice on sundays. Come on, it’s COLOR we’re talking about. Slowly Suck Some Seriously Sour Socks, T-M.

Carla Jan 01 2010

First of all they can own the color which is a particular combination code of numbers C-M-Y-K etc. Tiffany Blue is a good example, it, like the others above, are custom blended colors that cannot be and will not be sold by Pantone to anyone else-they are custom mixed and named, I would also imagine that they trademark their custom color name to avoid infringement as well, if someone created a jewelry company and used similar shade of Tiffany blue but a few digits off in the combo they would sue because it is similar and in the same field. But if someone had a machine shop and wanted a similar shade close to Tiffany blue first of all Pantone wouldn’t even have it available to reference from, but it could be figured out by perhaps another color agency and probably used by another industry without incident. Remember their are a million different combinations and hues etc to the extent we can measure it.
But this discussion leads to other similar intellectual concerns…companies and people can own real estate on the Moon, and Monsanto can own ALL the rights to ALL GMO corn to monopolize revenue on the grain industry, and whats next patenting H20 and O2 so we’ll have to pay a royalty for utilizing them also? Credit card companies do the same thing they rely on credit bureaus to report bad behavior to, so that they can can then in return use the negative information they provided to the bureau about you, against you by declining or charging you higher fees. Companies buy into the problem and solutions now. “He who cureth can maketh ill.”
It also isn’t much different than pharmaceutical companies patenting strains of viruses so that they can build vaccines and drugs around them…I shudder to think of the day when some who has an identifiable strain of cancer has to pay a royalty for having it, in addition to paying for the curative drug itself-if its even curable, and by the way they know what causes cancer in the last 100 yrs-pollution from chemicals-its obvious-nobody’s chemical companies are stopping that are they? No because someone makes money off of it.
At the end of the day, all of these companies only have one thing left to make money off of and that’s intellectual property. So while everybody is worried about recycling and CO2 and the planet overheating the powers that be have been patenting and cataloguing every last living virus, disease and plant and chemical in last 100 yrs in order to make money off of it in the future…Really…just think when will those in charge have enough money?
Happy 2010 y’all, welcome to the future!

Andrei Jan 02 2010

This will not hold.
By the time they register half the brands it will be chromatic chaos.

Imokon Jan 14 2010

You know that’s funny because Suicide Girls tried to pull the trademark right on pink and lost. So it’s funny to me that T-Mobile gets away with it.

And actually, random fact, you can’t trademark scents period. They only trademark the colors and designs of the packaging. Jan 23 2010

They should stop it now before it gets out of hand.

I refuse to respect this stupidity, I use colors as I want. ¡Ya basta!

Chris May 27 2010

This is totally insane! I’ll be using their so called trademarked color for my projects soon. If not for the world, we wont have any color.

This is not just right!

Metallica tried to trademark a music note once… this is just as silly.

Barbie had a magenta phone before T-Mobile was founded, Therefore Mattel can sue T-Mobile.
Prior art FTW.

Cre8ive Commando Oct 20 2010

Colours running out, it’s a scary concept but interesting to think about none the less. ;-)

Jean-Paul Gedeon Jun 22 2011

We use JPG green.

Love it.

274-1 C

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