Tiffany Blue, Reese’s orange, Cadbury purple, Starbucks green, Barbie pink, UPS brown and Carolina blue — what do these unique colors have in common? Besides national recognition and association with their respective brands, they are registered under federal trademark law. The Trademark Act of 1946, otherwise known as the Lanham Act, permits the registration of a color, as a trademark if the usage of that color meets certain requirements. The Act grants an individual or entity the exclusive right to register a trademark which, in turn, prevents any competitor from using it.
Under the Lanham Act, a trademark “includes any word, name, symbol, device, or combination thereof.” In addition, the trademark must have distinct characteristics or traits that make it identifiable. This broad definition has extended to phrases, gestures, sounds, images, and popular terms which are commonplace in today’s society. Well-known phrases and words such as Emeril Lagasse’s signature “Bam!” as he finishes the perfect meal, Paris Hilton’s catchphrase “That’s hot” regarding something she likes, or Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get ready to rumble” announcing the start of a wrestling match are all trademarked. Comparably Guy Fieri’s name, Kim Kardashian’s kid’s name, Usain Bolt’s “lightning bolt” victory gesture, and the design of a Coke bottle share the same protections.
To qualify for trademark registration, a person must “use” or “intend to use” the mark to identify their goods from others. Customers identify brands by these unique marks, and over time, automatically associate them with the brand it represents. This association with the brand is important: it establishes brand loyalty and customers generally trust the items’ quality if it is associated with a well-known brand. Marks may also have a “secondary meaning” to the public, where the significance of a product’s feature shows where it originated, rather than what the product is.
Clothing and other related brands constantly deal with fierce competition. Unlike other goods where differences are less noticeable, such as name-brand products in the grocery store versus the store’s brand, clothing manufacturers tirelessly battle for overall recognition. This battle is influenced by many factors including:
- Most styles change from season to season.
- Weather conditions impact the clothing consumers purchase in an area.
- The quality of materials can improve over time.
- Production methods may change for efficiency.
In addition, celebrities and the media are highly influential over what society purchases or deems to be in style, and companies’ ambassador programs featuring these individuals affect product popularity.
One of these competitive brands is Christian Louboutin – a high-end shoe designer that sells its products worldwide. But what makes these shoes famous isn’t the brands’ general use or place in most household closets. It’s also not the company’s use of exotic leather, various embellishments, or sleek silhouette designs. Instead, Louboutin’s ‘claim to fame’ is his signature red-lacquered outsole featured on the brand’s shoe designs. These ‘red bottoms’ are regularly worn by celebrities and fashion icons, mentioned in song lyrics, and are publicized at televised events. Louboutin’s red lacquered outsoles have received such recognition that he registered the use of this particular outsole with the United States Patent and Trade Office in 2008. His brand has the “secondary meaning” required for a trademark to be protected; to the public, the significance of these red lacquered outsoles is to show that the shoes are Louboutin’s.
In a world with millions of brands to choose from, it’s clear that even the smallest of differences matter to companies so that they can attract marketplace attention. These companies can set their products apart by registering their product’s unique characteristics and receiving a trademark. Qualities like sights, sounds, gestures, features, functions, names, shapes, and even colors can be unique to the trademark holder. While Louboutin’s shoes were made for walking, like any other shoe, his signature outsoles are Louboutin’s, and his only.
At King Law Offices, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property, including trademarks, and are here to help businesses navigate the legal complexities of registering and enforcing their trademarks. If you need assistance with trademark registration or enforcement, give us a call at (888)748-KING.