CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. Qualitex Co. (Plaintiff) sought to register a trademark on a color.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Color on its own may be registered as a trademark.
If a product's functional features could be used as trademarks, however, a monopoly over such features could be obtained without regard to whether they qualify as patents and could be extended forever (because trademarks may be renewed in perpetuity).View Full Point of Law
Issue. May color on its own be registered as a trademark?
Held. (Breyer, J.) Yes. Color on its own may be registered as a trademark. The Lanham Act, which establishes federal trademark law, is quite liberal in regards to the universe of things that can be trademarked. Any symbol that carries a secondary meaning linking it with a particular product may be trademarked. There seems to be no reason why a color cannot fall within this definition. Defendant’s arguments to the contrary are mostly based on pre-Lanham Act common law. Defendant also argues that since an infinite number of colors exist, color should not be trademarked. To establish a blanket prohibition for a problem that rarely occurs is unnecessary. Reversed.
Discussion. A number of things of tenuous tangibility have become trademarks: a bottle shape (Coca-Cola) and sound (NBC Broadcasting Co.). It would follow that allowing color to be the subject of a trademark is not unusual.