TMEP 1202.05: Color as a Mark

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.05    Color as a Mark

Color marks are marks that consist solely of one or more colors used on particular objects. For marks used in connection with goods, color may be used on the entire surface of the goods, on a portion of the goods, or on all or part of the packaging for the goods. For example, a color trademark might consist of purple used on a salad bowl, pink used on the handle of a shovel, or a blue background and a pink circle used on all or part of a product package. See Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 34 USPQ2d 1161 (1995) (green-gold used on dry cleaning press pads held to be a protectible trademark where the color had acquired secondary meaning); In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F.2d 1116, 227 USPQ 417 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (the color pink as applied to fibrous glass residential insulation registrable where the evidence showed the color had acquired secondary meaning). Similarly, service marks may consist of color used on all or part of materials used in the advertising and rendering of the services.

The registrability of a color mark depends on the manner in which the proposed mark is used. Owens-Corning, 774 F.2d at 1120, 227 USPQ at 419. A color(s) takes on the characteristics of the object or surface to which it is applied, and the commercial impression of a color will change accordingly. See In re Thrifty, Inc., 274 F.3d 1349, 1353, 61 USPQ2d 1121, 1124 (Fed. Cir. 2001) ("a word mark retains its same appearance when used on different objects, but color is not immediately distinguishable as a service mark when used in similar circumstances").

Color marks are never inherently distinctive, and cannot be registered on the Principal Register without a showing of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(f). Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Bros., 529 U.S. 205, 211-12, 54 USPQ2d 1065, 1068 (2000). See TMEP §1202.05(a) and cases cited therein.

Color, whether a single overall color or multiple colors applied in a specific and arbitrary fashion, is usually perceived as an ornamental feature of the goods or services. Owens-Corning, 774 F.2d at 1124, 227 USPQ at 422; In re Hudson News Co., 39 USPQ2d 1915, 1923 (TTAB 1996), aff’d per curiam, 114 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 1997) ("blue motif" used in retail stores would likely be perceived by prospective purchasers as "nothing more than interior decoration" that "could be found in any number of retail establishments. Undoubtedly such features are usually perceived as interior decoration or ornamentation."). However, color can function as a mark if it is used in the manner of a trademark or service mark and if it is perceived by the purchasing public to identify and distinguish the goods or services on or in connection with which it is used and to indicate their source. The United States Supreme Court has held that color alone may, sometimes, meet the basic legal requirements for a trademark. When it does, there is no rule that prevents color from serving as a mark. Qualitex, 514 U.S. at 161, 34 USPQ2d at 1162. If a color is not functional and is shown to have acquired distinctiveness on or in connection with the applicant’s goods or services, it is registrable as a mark.

Functional color marks are not registrable. See TMEP §1202.05(b) and cases cited therein.