As anyone who is in the business of selling a product knows it is important to do whatever one can to set their product apart. Finding ways to legally protect a design or recipe are common. Some businesses even trademark colors used in their packaging. Chocolate maker Cadbury successfully did this with its purple wrappers in 2004 in the United Kingdom. Displeased with that move Nestle took legal action against that protection.
Nestle's arguments that the purple wrapper trademark could be abused and was too vague were well received by the Court of Appeals. The judge determined that registration of the color was not proper because, among other things, it did not have the durability, precisions and objectivity necessary to qualify. While this decision was made in the U.K. courts, laws regarding the matter are similar in the United States. Here, in addition to originality, a "secondary meaning" which shows how consumers associate the color with the particular product, must be displayed.
Even when a business is successful in securing a trademark for a color, this does not mean that another business can't use the color. It does however keep businesses selling similar products from using that same exact shade. Businesses in this position include Christian Leboutin, United Parcel Service and Tiffany's.
Businesses interested in learning more about if or how they might be able to pursue registering a color as a trademark would most likely benefit from working with a lawyer who handled intellectual property matters. These individuals usually have a good idea as to what can realistically be accomplished via a trademark.
Source: Washington Post, "The color purple: Not just for Cadbury anymore," Lydia DePillis, Oct. 4, 2013