Can Color Be Trademarked?

cadbury logo design

Cadbury loses its case for the color purple.

A recent trademark case caught my attention and reminded me again of the power of color: Cadbury, the eminent British chocolate maker, lost an appeal to keep its exclusive right to use the color purple on candy bars and drinking chocolate.

Cadbury has held the trademark for almost 10 years, but Nestle challenged it in court, asserting that the trademark was too vague. And indeed, how can any one company own the color purple?

Trademarks are all about “use”, and geographic location, as well. Tiffany & Co. has trademarked their familiar robin’s-egg blue, but it is restricted to use on its gift boxes. It makes sense, as everyone who covets the little (or big) blue box knows that something beautiful is inside. Here’s a list of other companies who have trademarked their colors, including Target, Home Depot, Post Its, and UPS.

The Cadbury purple, however, has a bigger meaning in Britain: Royalty. As we noted in a previous post, purple is historically the color of kings and queens, and competition is fierce in Britain when it comes to being associated with the Queen. Her influence is extremely powerful in commerce, and gives even more nuance to the meaning of color in branding.