john-schaidler-D6mZtrRZVGs-unsplashIt's important to establish at the top that we understand and value the importance of trademarks as part of the intellectual property portfolio that every company establishes and develops as part of their growth. Trademarks are necessary to protect businesses from infringement, as well as protecting consumers against knockoff or impostor products or brands. That being said, there are times that trademark law can seem to veer into absurdity, and that the principles designed to make for a better commercial marketplace for all seem to be gamed to benefit a certain subset of companies with more wealth and power (and access to power) than the mom-and-pop store down the street.

A prime exemplar of that theory is the trademark tiff between T-Mobile and a startup insurance company over, of all things, a color. As recounted by NPR, the CEO of Lemonade, a relatively young insurance company (not to be confused with the drink or the Beyonce album), was dumbfounded to receive a letter from T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, informing him that his company had infringed upon their trademark. The infringement wasn't in a logo or slogan or anything that would suggest itself as obvious; no, the offense was in Lemonade using T-Mobile's trademarked color, Magenta.

Anyone familiar with T-Mobile and its branding know that the color is prominent in its marketing efforts, but its claim to some sort of propriety to the color would at first blush seem to be a ridiculous overreach; if companies can claim ownership over colors, what's next on the chopping block. But NPR cites trademark attorney Robert Zelnick, who cites a particular case involving Owens Corning, based out of the great city of Toledo, Ohio. Owens Corning claimed a similar stake over the color pink, as anyone who might remember their ad campaigns featuring the Pink Panther could attest, and was granted a trademark upon proving a link between the brand and the color in consumers' minds.

Though the precedent might exist, the notion that a color can end up belonging to one company, if only for the purposes of business, seems wrong on the face of it. As strong as the association might be, no company can claim to have created a color, or to have dome much in the way of addition beyond using it in whatever marketing efforts have stuck in the brains of the average person. Lemonade might end up having to back down or risk a protracted legal battle, but it's worth asking if we've all lost something if this is what we allow our system to become.

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