The Pantone Colour System and Trade Marking Colours

The Pantone Colour chart debuted in 1963 with the colourful PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM®, an innovative tool that offers a universal language of colour anywhere in the world. The tool organises colour standards through a proprietary numbering system and chip format.

Find out more about the Pantone colour systems here.

Pantone Colour of the Year

Each year, Pantone announces a colour of the year. For 2024, this is “Peach Fuzz 13-1023.”


“PANTONE 13-1023 Peach Fuzz captures our desire to nurture ourselves and others. It’s a velvety gentle peach tone whose all-embracing spirit enriches mind, body, and soul.

In seeking a hue that echoes our innate yearning for closeness and connection, we chose a colour radiant with warmth and modern elegance. A shade that resonates with compassion, offers a tactile embrace, and effortlessly bridges the youthful with the timeless.” – Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director, Pantone Color Institute.


Trade Marking Colours

When it comes to trade mark law, countries around the world rely on the Pantone Colouring system to attribute relevant colours to the trade mark application. For example, McDonalds trade marked its written name with the colours yellow and red in the logo. And Facebook trade marked its name with the classic blue colour.

Now with a total of 2,390 solid Pantone colours to choose from, some businesses have been successful in claiming ownership over a whole colour. These include Tiffany & Co for its robin egg blue, T-Mobile’s magenta, 3M for its canary yellow Post-It notes and Cadbury purple (although Cadbury later lost its approval due to trade mark disputes).

It’s very difficult for a brand to claim ownership over a single colour. In order to do this they need to prove that their business model relies heavily on the particular colour. It needs to be distinguishable from competitors and identify the company as the definitive source of the product.

{Note – they can only ‘own’ the colour in relation to the goods and services classes they’re registered in.}

IP Australia defines trade marking a colour as; “A colour, by itself or in combination with other colours and/or any of the other features which fall within the definition of a sign, may be used as a trade mark.” Single colour trade marks are much harder to receive approval for than a combination of colours within a trade mark.


Some Famous Trade Mark Colour Disputes

Some famous trade mark colour disputes over the years have included:

In 2002, Mattel brought suit against MCA Records for, among other things, allowing the band Aqua to use its trade marked pink colour on its album cover for the single, “Barbie Girl.” The judge famously advised both parties to “chill.”

In 2010, Hershey sued Mars for using orange on the packaging of a peanut butter candy bar. The suit was later dropped.

In 2011, Louboutin accused Yves Saint Laurent of infringing on its trade mark red shoe soles and won.

In 2015, toolmaker DeWalt won a $54m judgment against a competitor that copied its black and yellow colours, though it was later tossed out on appeal.

And Deutsche Telekom AG Company that owns T-Mobile is particularly litigative when it comes to protecting their trade marked magenta colour.

Colours can be extremely important to businesses, particularly when it comes to marketing and branding. Some studies & surveys have shown the following effects on consumers:

62%-90% of a consumer’s initial judgment of a product is based on colour.

52% of consumers say the colour of packaging is an indicator of quality.

Colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%.


Colour History

Did you know that over 271 years ago (before the Pantone Colour Chart existed) an individual known as ‘A. Boogert’ created an 800 page book on every single possible water colour combination? Each page is handwritten and goes into specific detail about creating different colours and hues dependant on certain amounts of water.

The original book (made in 1672) is currently kept at Bibliotheque Mejanes in France. Check out this blog article here for more information.

At Litton Legal we’re experts in trade mark law. If you need assistance with any trade mark matters for your business, contact our friendly team here