You can’t trademark yellow, Cheerios

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.

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.

  • Should have tweaked that color a little.

  • Gary F

    John Deere fought years ago that its green and yellow was trademarked. Not sure what came of the case.

    • RBHolb

      They lost. Green is a “functional” color, since it is the color of vegetation (the stuff you would be using a John Deere on).

      The yellow leaping deer on a green background is a trademark, however.

    • Ralphy

      The John Deere green & yellow is listed in the article above as being protected intellectual property.
      Not sure about my 20+ year old, well used John Deere cap. Not exactly the original colors anymore.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I don’t know if this was part of the argument against granting the trademark but the line “consumers have come to identify the color yellow” on boxes of oats cereal with “the Cheerios brand.” (from the Ars Technica story) is laughable. Big G doesn’t even identify the Cheerios brand using yellow. Except for the original variety every other variation uses a different color box. (Brown for Honey-Nut, purple for Multi-grain, and blue for Frosted to name a few.)

  • Rob

    Cheerios, meh. The container color of my favorite made-in-Minnesota cereal isn’t distinctive, but its name is just as easy to remember as Cheerios’ is. And despite its name, it’s a lot tastier than Cheerios.

    • Robin Martinez

      Thanks for the heads-up on Crapola! It sounds really good.

  • Bob Sinclair

    Looks like Union Pacific “Armour Yellow”