01 July 2020

Who owns colors ?

he history of commercial color use is a fascinating one. Are all colors equally available to everyone? Is it possible to “own” a color?.

The transition to the commercialization of color was foreshadowed by Marcel Duchamp’s painting Tu m’ (1918). Prior to this era, color charts or swatches were still a novelty and represented a new way of looking at color itself. While we are used to them now, after some philosophical controversy color swatches quickly become a commodity in and of themselves.


Source: picture by Yanns at pixabay.com

The company is also heavily involved in trend forecasting, for instance by releasing an annual Pantone Color of the Year. For 2020, it selected Classic Blue, anticipating a renewed global need for “calm, confidence, and connection” and “a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.”

Through its standardization, Pantone has established dominance over the color palette in many industries. But to what degree can a corporation “own” a color?

Over the past several decades, companies have laid claim to both combinations of colors and individual colors. This has pushed the boundaries of intellectual property law in various countries. It was previously thought to be legally impossible to trademark a single color. Yet a number of companies – T-Mobile, UPS, jeweler Tiffany & Co, fashion designer Christian Louboutin – have trademarked their signature hues. In one of the most famous cases, Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile, successfully argued its rights to magenta, or more specifically, PANTONE Rhodamine Red U.

To successfully trademark a single color, a company must first prove that it:

How does this kind of exclusivity affect competitors? The case of T-Mobile was followed closely because it challenged an insurance company – and not another mobile provider – claiming it was utilizing its signature magenta color. Expanding the right to broadly “own” a color beyond a specific industry is only one controversial implication. Another consideration is that consumers may not always be able to differentiate between slight shade variations of colors trademarked by brands. And issuing trademarks to individual colors is also problematic because there are only around 1,867 solid Pantone colors in this unique coding system. If too many brands claimed colors, the availability would eventually run out.

Color is an important part of any design project. Color choices end up representing and even becoming synonymous with a brand. Here at Hirzou.com, we will happily customize any project based on your specific needs and preferences.