Answering the question — “Can You Patent a Color?” — is not as straightforward as “yes” or “no.”
However, it is possible to answer the question.
The best answer possible for the question is “Yes, a color can be patented, but only under certain circumstances.”
So what are those certain circumstances?
Let’s dive deeper into how you can patent a color:
Patenting a Color
The determining factor in patenting a color is whether the application is for a single color or a color used as part of an entire design concept.
Single colors cannot be patented.
However, when using a specific color as part of a design, design as the whole can be patented. Essentially, you are not patenting the color but an entire design or image.
When wanting to patent a color as part of a design, you must first submit your petition to the Commissioner for Patents in Alexandria, Virginia.
Once the petition is approved, you must send in a color drawing or photograph showing the color you wish to claim as part of your design.
Once submitted, the patent office will take time to review and consider if the color presented is a necessary part of your overall design.
Trademarking a Color
Since a single color cannot be patented, it might be possible to trademark the color.
However, please do not confuse the process to patent a color with trademarking it.
By definition, a trademark is any word, symbol, name, device, or combination of these items that help identify and distinguish goods or services from others.
Though colors are not included in the definition of a trademark, since 1995, it has been possible to trademark a single color or color combination as part of a package, service, or product.
Trademarking colors are possible because they serve to identify something and not only used for decoration.
Functional vs. Design
Functional colors cannot be trademarked or patented, and the office will deny petitions for functional colors.
The color must be used as part of a design to be approved.
For example, it must be a color that helps improve the appearance of an object and not be related directly to its function.
For example, if John Deere used the colors green and yellow on its machinery to enhance the ability to function on a farm, it would be considered a functional use.
However, since Deere & Company trademarked the recognizable green and yellow colors with the leaping deer and name, the color is considered part of the design.
Because of this, the company was able to trademark the color as part of the overall design.
Famous Trademarked Colors
Many companies worldwide are known for their logos, making it possible to identify the company by a single color.
Famously patented color designs include brown for UPS, magenta for T-Mobile, red for Target, Tiffany Blue for Tiffany & Co., burnt orange for Texas A&M, Carolina Blue for the University of North Carolina, and orange for Home Depot.
These colors are designated to be used in conjunction with other elements and designs to identify the company.
These are just some examples of a color trademarked as part of a logo or design scheme.
First things first, when wanting to trademark a color, you must conduct a trademark search to ensure no one else has already registered the color you use for goods or services.
When the search returns no results, it is time to prepare your trademark registration application and submit it with associated filing fees.
All information about trademarking (and patenting), including forms, are located on the United States Patent and Trademarking Office’s (USPTO) website.
Once filed, the trademark office assigns the application with a serial number.
This number helps you track the process and status of your application.
If needed, the trademark office will send a letter explaining in detail any amendments or changes required to the application.
Once approved, the color and branding are protected, and you can identify it with the proper trademark symbol.
The ™ marking designates something as being trademarked.
The symbol’s use is governed by local, state, or foreign laws, including any laws pertinent to patent and trademark jurisdictions.
Most states automatically give “common law” trademark rights for symbols, products, services, and other trademarkable items.
The ® symbol can only be used in the United States after federal trademark registration has been accepted and approved by the USPTO.
Prices to trademark a color depend greatly upon class and intent to use.
The initial application fee is $250 per class of goods or services for the electronic filing of a trademark application.
Additional fees may apply, including requesting an extension for the application and filing for showing use.
Though it is possible to file a trademark application independently, hiring an attorney can ensure the application is complete.
In addition, the additional costs to hire an attorney can quickly outweigh the delays you may face when additional information is needed for the application process.
Patenting vs. Trademarking
Patenting a color requires additional items to create a complete design to receive approval from the patent board.
Since patenting a single color is not allowed, those wanting to protect a color related to their business may seek protection under trademark law.
However, trademarking protects the color for specific uses.
For example, Target and Coca-Cola both have red as part of their trademarks.
Trademarking the color red is possible in this scenario because they are not competing businesses.
Coca-Cola Red is protected under trademark law because no other beverage company can use the exact Pantone color in their design.
Patenting a color can be complicated mainly because the color alone cannot be patented.
Additionally, getting the color trademarked is difficult, but it is easier to achieve in most situations where the color is part of a recognizable brand.
When wanting to patent a color or color design, speak with an attorney to discuss the situation, desires, and needs to protect the color.
Then, the attorney can recommend proceeding with the patenting or registering the color as a protected trademark is the best option.