3M claims ownership over purple

"The color PURPLE is a trademark of 3M."

I wonder if Alice Munroe Walker knows about this.

(Thanks, Airshowfan, via Submitterator!)



    1. That’s right up there with the One-eyed, one-horned, flying, 3M People-eater. That’s a liability for them, is it not?

  1. I wonder if Alice Walker or Prince know about it.

    I’ve wondered about silly things like this since I got my kid a Lionel train set and it says something ridiculous like “the colors orange and blue are a trademark of Lionel Trains.” My guess is, if it can be explained, the explanation will leave you with a vague dissatisfaction that people actually make piles of cash writing such hooey.

  2. Remember that trademark is often pretty limited – in cases like this, often extending only in relation to direct competitors of their product who use it in a similiar way.

    Even then, its still a bit silly.

    1. It’s definitely broad. I don’t know if I’ve heard of a trademark on a whole chunk of the spectrum before. 3M, for instance, already has “canary yellow”, not just “yellow”. If every company with a competing product claimed another chunk there’d only be room for to ten or so others since it leaves red, orange, yellow, green, blue, black, white, grey, brown and pink. That can’t be right.

  3. There’s a similar kerfuffle about magenta and T-mobile.

    Since those colors (that’s colours to you, Cory) are adjacent on the colo(u)r wheel, does that mean they could measure the level of infringement in degrees?

  4. It isn’t purple that they are laying claim to, it is PURPLE — which may be 3M’s trade name for that shade — note that it is strangely written in all caps unlike the rest of the sentence.

  5. Trademark only applies to the specific type of product. 3m doesn’t make chocolate eggs, so they can use purple. If they did make chocolate eggs they would have to be a different colour. Pink Panther insulation owns the colour pink for insulation- no other company can make pink insulation; but Mattel can make pink Barbies. Also, just because someone says it’s trademarked doesn’t mean it is. Kleenex and Xerox lost the trademarks to their names because their products had become so synonymous with the generic version. You have to have the name, image, or colour, be symbolic of your product and have it wide spread. If coke-cola only distributed their bottles in Oregon then someone with the same bottle shape in Florida could duplicate it.

  6. A couple weeks ago I noticed that Park Tool, makers of bicycle maintenance gear, have trademarked the color blue. I didn’t realize at the time that this was so widespread.

  7. The real jewel among corporate spectra is the pigment they use for the ‘enhanced’ ads as in They Live.
    ⋐⊙⊓≸⊍⋈⋳ ɖɩʂɲɛɣɭɒɳɖ

  8. I noticed the other day that Royal Mail claim to own the colour Red. Can’t say I am partically impressed, though it does conjure up the image of someone a bit like The Cat from Red Dwarf going around the country marking things – “that’s mine, and that’s mine, and that’s mine”.

  9. Didn’t Harley-Davidson trademark their engine sound?
    What about the poem “When I am an old Woman I shall wear Purple”? Ha; not any more you won’t!

  10. I never saw a [REDACTED] Cow,
    I never hope to see one;
    But I can tell you, anyhow,
    I’d rather see than be one.

  11. Britain’s Royal Mail has this wording on all their promotional material:

    “Royal Mail, the Cruciform and the colour red are registered trade marks of Royal Mail Group Ltd.”

  12. Quick, BoingBoing — trademark white! Or your site will stop working!

    Better yet, think of the profits you can rake in any time someone buys paper.

  13. Some context would be helpful. Under US law, trademarks are only protectable in for the goods and service on which they are used. As long as the choice of color does not put competitors at a non-reputation-related disadvantage, a claim to a color can be actionable under the Lanham Act. Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc., 514 U.S. 159 (1995). That means that the purple trademark FOR SANDPAPER or related products is fine as long as there isn’t some technical reason that makes it more difficult for competitors to use non-purple coloring.

    As long as Alice Walker doesn’t sell sandpaper or similar goods or services, she’ll be fine.

  14. I work in marketing. My guess is that this is a custom color made for 3M, not a standard Pantone shade. It is that specific color that they have trademarked.

  15. This is usually how packages signify that they own a particular shade of a colour, so 3m probably owns that particular purple. I’ve also seen similar notes on packaging and websites referring to logos in alarmingly generic term (with the occasional alarmingly specific one, for instance: “The purple flaming X logo is a registered trademark of Xanadu Operating Company”).

    I suppose it would be counterproductive to be more specific in the case of colours.

  16. “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. ”


  17. How do we as a people stop ridiculous things like this from being allowed? You can’t own a color. Sorry. A logo sure. A jingle or ad phrase sure. Not a color. That’s akin to copyrighting an animal. They did not originate the color or combination that created the color, whatever color they picked existed far before they came along, they can’t own it. I don’t even care if it is a very specific purple. They can’t own it.

  18. Doesn’t matter, I copyrighted the letter P along time ago. It was part of a book I wrote, the letter P shows up quite a few times [along with other letters but I really like the letter P, so that is the only one I will enforce right now] so I am going to claim that any use of that letter anywhere on printed matter is a derivative work.

    So now should I contemplate suing 3M since they used it not once, but twice in thier colour “PurPle” so I have proof of blatant and repeated infrigement. Of course, I should just send a nasty sounding letter threating millions of dollars in potential damamges and a lengthy legal battle, but give them an escape route to just send me a check annually for $2,000 to licence the use of P in their colour name. [ala BSA]

    This stuff is nuts. The scary part is they probably would send the $2,000 check. Which is more nutso.

  19. I notice on their website that the wording is slightly different – it’s not “the color purple”, it’s “the purple color”; same words, big difference semantically.


    We were better off, trademark-wise, with the standard used by Medieval – Renaissance Heralds – a single color could not be used as the mark of a person* or corporation but two colors (a colour and a metal [gold or white]) could signify a trade dress for a person or corporation, with overlap of sets of color between trades or classes but not in the same trade or class, and zero overlap of a full set of colors and device (what we think of as a coat of arms).

    Someone, somewhere, is going to try to trademark black one of these days. What a sad state of affairs.

    * (purple, ‘royal’ blue, and in some cases black and sometimes a deep red were in some times and countries ‘reserved’, but were not the mark of a particular person but of the /clothing/ of a particular social class.)

  21. similarly, the colour blue is a trademark of the park tool company. check out the notice at the bottom of parktool.com

  22. Purple is also used (generically) on filters to indicate they’re HEPA. For example, an AO Safety P100 (P for oil Proof, 100 for near 100% which is really 99.97% of particulates above a certain size).

    3M’s respiratory personal protective equipment page. The P100s are purple, the N95 (not oil proof) and P95 are not.

    3M’s pushing their PPE at the consumer level in hardware stores. All my locals used to feature AO Safety, but they only have cartridges, not masks, from them now.

    3M also used to use purple for their best “pleated’ furnace air filters, but they weren’t anywhere close to HEPA and they’ve stopped.

  23. Fuck THAT.

    The ancient Phoenicians (a Greco-invented term– they were simply coastal Canaanites) of what is today, Lebanon, were the ones who first invented the color purple from the conch sea shell.

    Fuckin’ A!

  24. I have copyrighted the particular shade of LEUCOCHROIC which can be found only on the inside of my upper thigh. If you have that colour down there, change it immediately.

  25. You can absolutely copyright specific PMS colors. It says purple on the box, but I’m willing to bet it’s in reference to that exact PMS. As someone already said, Barbie pink is copyrighted. So is Tiffany blue/green, or Victoria Secret pink, etc.

    In fact I met the guy who invented Victoria Secret pink. He was just a press operator at a paper mill where they were having an order filled, and he mixed them a color on the spot and they ran with it. He didn’t and doesn’t get anything for his “invention”, since it was just part of his job.

  26. The purple pill, Nexium – helps to provide relief of heartburn symptoms from acid reflux disease — day and night.
    Your results with NEXIUM may vary.

    Important Safety Information About NEXIUM
    In adults 18 and older, side effects with NEXIUM include headache, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
    In children 1 to 17 years of age, side effects with NEXIUM include headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and sleepiness.
    Symptom relief does not rule out the presence of other serious stomach conditions.

  27. I’ve just trademarked infrared. If you’re emitting heat right now, you’re in breach, and may expect a demand for money from my lawyer.

  28. Cadbury’s do own the trademark for purple in relation to chocolate. But 3M don’t make chocolate nor are they using purple to market chocolate, so there is no infringement. Kodak own yellow, but you can still use it to advertise things that don’t step on Kodak’s toes.

  29. Colors are wavelengths of light. Someone ought to patent light, then they’ll own all the colors. I’m going to patent ‘air’ and sue everyone who breathes it.

  30. I can kind of understand the need to prevent people in the same industry as you from making their packages the exact same color as yours, but there needs to be a better way to word it.

  31. wow. the concept intellectual property has hit a new low and it hasn’t even reached it’s 130th birthday yet. when can we admit that this has been a failed social experiment and move into our next renaissance? we got by without it for most of human history, it isn’t like the world would fall apart without it.

  32. A friend send me a purple painting, and called it pourpel so I guess that’s the term I will use from now on, I’m sending it to our programmers and graphics design division as well.

  33. UPS owns brown, they say. Less flashy than purple, but more fundamental…earthy. It befits a solid company offering a simple but essential service. You can trust brown, freshly out of the truck wash and nicely polished.

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