An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: U.S. intellectual property regulators are rejecting General Mills' bid to trademark the yellow background color on boxes of Cheerios cereal. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on Tuesday set aside the cereal maker's two-year quest to trademark "the color yellow appearing as the predominant uniform background color" on boxes of "oat-based breakfast cereal." A contrary ruling could have given the Cheerios maker an exclusive right to yellow boxes of oat cereal. General Mills argued that it deserved to be awarded the trademark status because "consumers have come to identify the color yellow" on boxes of oats cereal with "the Cheerios brand." It has been marketed in yellow packaging since 1945, with billions in sales. The board noted that "there is no doubt that a single color applied to a product or its packaging may function as a trademark and be entitled to registration under the Trademark Act." But that's only if those colors have become "inherently distinctive" in the eyes of consumers. Some of those examples include UPS "Brown;" T-Mobile "Magenta;" Target "Red;" John Deere "Green & Yellow;" and Home Depot "Orange." It goes without saying that anybody can still use those colors predominately in their marketing, but not direct competitors.
Regarding the box of Cheerios, however, the court ruled that consumers don't necessarily associate the yellow box of cereal with Cheerios, despite General Mills' assertion to the contrary. Consumers are confronted with a multitude of yellow boxes of oats cereal, the appeal board noted. By comparison, T-Mobile has only a handful of competitors, and none of them uses the magenta color as a distinctive mark, the appeal board said.