You can’t trademark yellow, Cheerios

AP Photo/David Duprey

The Cheerios’ shade of yellow isn’t “inherently distinctive” enough to qualify for a trademark, the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled this week.

General Mills had spent the past two years trying to trademark “the color yellow appearing as the predominant uniform background color” on Cheerios boxes, Ars Technica reports.

Turns out the Cheerios yellow is just too average. For intellectual-property regulators to deem a color trademark-able, consumers must consider it to have a certain “distinctiveness.”

The Urias law blog has some examples of colors that have achieved such status:

UPS “Brown,” T-Mobile “Magenta,” Target “Red,” Tiffany “Blue,” University of North Carolina “Carolina Blue,” John Deere “Green & Yellow,” and Home Depot “Orange.” Certainly other companies and entities can use those colors, so long as they are not selling competing products.

A “rectangular-shaped, oat-based breakfast cereal” box. Or, Spongebob? | Via the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board

It’s worth noting that General Mills was trying to trademark one of the most benign things you could find in any kitchen cupboard. Take a look at the rendering to the right of its application to the trademark board.

If regulators ruled the other way, it could’ve barred any other companies from making oat cereal in yellow boxes.