Cheerios glum over yellow trademark denial

Cheerios attempts to trademark yellow

The incessant grind of brands trying to copyright the shapes and colors of their products continues with Cheerios the latest to fail in securing a trademark on its specific shade of yellow.

The US trademark court office has called an end to the brand’s two-year crusade to hamstring cereal rivals by monopolizing yellow and, therefore, restricting them from using it. The General Mills brand argued that "consumers have come to identify the color yellow" on Cheerios, an assertion the court did not agree with.

To grant the trademark, Cheerios “must show that in the minds of the public, the primary significance of a product feature or term is to identify the source of the product rather than the product itself”.

The proliferation of yellow cereal boxes, which is the initial reason for General Mills' launching the trademark case, turned out to be its downfall, as that yellow shade was by no means reasonably distinguishable as Cheerios, claimed the court.

It read: "Customers, accustomed to seeing numerous brands from different sources offered in yellow packaging, are unlikely to be conditioned to perceive yellow packaging as an indicator of a unique source.

"Rather, they are more likely to view yellow packaging simply as eye-catching ornamentation customarily used for the packaging of breakfast cereals generally."

Nonetheless, Cheerios told Quartz that it is weighing up its legal options, having consistently used yellow since 1944.

It’s not impossible for brands to secure trademarks on color and there are several examples including Cadbury with royal purple, Coca-Cola and its ‘Coke Red’ and T-Mobile’s unique magneta — all protected by law.

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John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

Fuelled by tea.

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