October 24, 2017
So there you are on a Sunday afternoon, heading to the local hardware store to pick up some new landscaping equipment and the first thing you see is a green and yellow lawnmower. If you guessed right away that the lawnmower is made by John Deere, then you will most likely agree with U.S. District Court in Kentucky’s recent ruling. Earlier this month the Court ruled in favor of farm equipment maker Deere & Co. in a lawsuit filed to protect the company’s iconic green and yellow color combination.
Deer & Co. filed a trademark lawsuit against South Dakota-based FIMCO, Inc, manufacturer and marketer of agricultural spraying equipment for using the John Deere colors on its products. The lawsuit claimed that FIMCO’s green and yellow equipment infringed on Deer & Co.’s federal trademark for the color combination. Deere argued that another manufacturer using the green and yellow colors would confuse the public as to where the product originated thus ultimately diluting the value of the John Deere brand.
The primary requirements to trademark a color or combination of colors consists of two things. First, the colors cannot be functional, and second, the colors need to have attained ‘secondary meaning’, whereby the colors have come to identify and distinguish a particular brand. Trademarking a color does not mean ownership of the color but simply allows a company to use a particular combination and shade of color in its own industry. Famous examples include UPS brown, Tiffany blue, T-Mobile magenta, and Louboutin black and red.
Deere first registered a trademark for the color combination in 1988 for its agricultural tractors, lawn and garden tractors, trailers, wagons and carts, and later expanded the color combination’s use to their wheeled agricultural machines, lawn and garden, and material handling machines, and then to tractor-towed implements.
The court held that John Deere’s green and yellow color combination qualified as a “famous” trademark since as early as the late 1960s and that FIMCO intentionally chose green and yellow to create an association with the John Deere brand. The court also found that FIMCO’s use of green and yellow was likely to cause confusion among purchasers as to whether its agricultural equipment was manufactured by or endorsed by John Deere. In wake of this, FIMCO and their affiliates were permanently enjoined from using the green and yellow color combination in the manufacture, distribution, marketing, advertising or sale of trailed and wheeled agricultural equipment within the United States.
Author: Christoper Mayle, Patent Attorney
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