10 colours That Might Get You Sued

Target bullseye dog red

Photo: Target.com

Christian Louboutin recently won the right to trademark its red heels, spurring questions about what else can be branded.Well, actually, a lot else—sounds, shapes, symbols, and even colours can be trademarked.

Don’t confuse the term “trademark” with ownership of colour though. Trademarking a colour simply allows a company to use a particular combination and shade of colour in its own industry.

Target can’t sue Coca-Cola for using a similar red, because they are not selling competing products. Following the same logic, when in 2008, T-Mobile threatened to sue Engadget for using “its” magenta, the tech website sort of laughed it off.

So, how far would a company go to protect its brand?


Owner: UPS

UPS has used the colour for its trucks since 1916, when it was called Pullman brown. The reason the company chose brown is 'that it was the epitome of luxury at the time,' a former UPS executive told The New York Times in 1998.


Owner: T-Mobile

T-Mobile and its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, have had a few run-ins with other companies using 'its' magenta.

In one case, T-Mobile sent a letter to Engadget.com, defending its trademark on the colour and asking the website to stop using magenta in the lettering on its Engadget Mobile section.

The reason? Well, the German mobile provider didn't want customers to confuse the two brands--a cell company and a tech website.


Owner: Target

Target claims the colour red as a principle feature of its logo and lettering. So don't open a store with a logo resembling Target's and definitely don't use red to fill in the letters.

Tiffany Blue

Owner: Tiffany & Co.

Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the colour for the cover of Blue Book, the company's annual catalogue of 'exquisitely handcrafted jewels,' first published in 1845. 'Tiffany Blue' was later used on everything from shopping bags and jewelry boxes to any sort of advertising for the company.

Burnt Orange

Owner: University of Texas

It's Pantone colour #159, to be exact, and UT doesn't like anyone else using it other than university-affiliated entities. In 2010, the school shut down two iPhone apps produced by Mutual Mobile, due to their use of 'Burnt Orange' and mentioning 'Texas' in their names.

Carolina Blue

Owner: University of North Carolina

UNC is another university with a particularly strong attachment to its colours--Carolina Blue and White. If anyone would like to use either of its marks, they would have to first be approved by a university official, UNC's website states.


Owner: Home Depot

Homer TLC, the company behind Home Depot, has a trademark on the colour orange when used as the background of advertising, lettering, or other signage, according to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Green and yellow colour scheme

Owner: John Deere

Deere & Company's leaping deer symbol, name, and green and yellow colour scheme have become perhaps synonymous with outdoor power equipment.

That is why the company owns the rights to all three of these, prohibiting any other such machinery maker from using them separately or combined.

Caterpillar Yellow

Owner: Caterpillar Inc.

The company prohibits anyone from using its distinct 'Caterpillar Yellow' without its permission.


Owner: 3M

'The colour PURPLE is a trademark of 3M,' reads a 3M box, BoingBoing reported in 2010.

And while the trademark is real, you can still go ahead and legally paint your room purple; 3M can't sue because you aren't trade competitors.

Following the same logic, Prince does not have to, as one BoingBoing commenter suggested, change his song's title to '3M Rain.'

See which law blogs will help you avoid a trademark lawsuit.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.