Colour Court: The Communicative Value of Single-Colour Trademark

Colour Court: The Communicative Value of Single-Colour Trademark
By Natasha Mendonca - 2014

While corporations regularly use trademarked logos and slogans, the use of colour trademarks to solidify and separate a brand from its marketplace is a recent development. This MRP explores legal conceptualizations of the communicative functions of colour in the judicial opinions of three influential colour trademark lawsuits: Norwich Pharmacal Company v. Sterling Drug, Inc. (1959), Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. (1995), and Christian Louboutin S.A. v. Yves Saint Laurent Am. Holding, Inc. (2012). The following questions guide my analysis of the court decisions: How do judges determine the communicative value of colour in single-colour trademark cases? How do the different levels of meaning present in colour, as described by Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (2002), affect the way judges assess the communicative value of colours in single- colour trademark cases? Which levels of meaning in colour, as described by Kress and van Leeuwen (2002), are most important in judges’ assessments of single-colour trademark claims? The communicative value of colour, for the purposes of this research project proposal, is defined as colour acting in one or more of the three functions defined by Kress and van Leeuwen (2002). Through qualitative content analysis of three legal documents involving single-colour trademarks, this MRP seeks to explore the challenges of claiming and maintaining legal ownership of a colour. This paper suggests that courts play a major role in developing single-colour trademarks as communicative and organizational branding tools.