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General Mills Loses Bid To Trademark Yellow Color On Cheerios Box (arstechnica.com) 91

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.

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General Mills Loses Bid To Trademark Yellow Color On Cheerios Box

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  • I'd be shocked to find that most people who regularly ate Cheerio's realized its made from oats.
  • So I assume they'd have to describe it by the hex code or 3x 8-bit integer RGB code (same thing) so just change 231 to 230 on red for example and tada, now it's not their color. Like it's legally proveably not their color even though visually it'd be virtually indistinguishable. They were idiots for even trying.
    • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Thursday August 24, 2017 @06:34PM (#55079311)
      The lawyer who got paid for the last two years was a fucking genius though.
    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      So I assume they'd have to describe it by the hex code or 3x 8-bit integer RGB code (same thing) so just change 231 to 230 on red for example and tada, now it's not their color. Like it's legally proveably not their color

      Just like naming my search engine googIe is allowed, because mine is g-o-o-g-capital "I" - e.

      Right? right? It's provably different so it's fine right?

      They were idiots for even trying.

      Lots of companies have trademarked colors related to their brand or product. Examples were given in TFA: UPS brown, target red, john deer green+yellow; etc.

      Who's the idiot here?

      • Anyone who thinks a company should be allowed to trademark a particular wavelength of light. It's on par with trademarks on genes found nature.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday August 24, 2017 @07:07PM (#55079519)

          Anyone who thinks a company should be allowed to trademark a particular wavelength of light

          Why? When you see a green and yellow tractor in a field; you know its john deere. It's now protected so that another vendor can't use the same green and yellow hues on their lawn and farm equipment ... because that WOULD confuse consumers; which is precisely the point of trademark law.

          This really offends you? Because??

          They don't own the colors. They own the use of the colors in conjunction with a very limited purpose. You want to make green and yellow guitar and sell it... go nuts. You want to paint your tractor green and yellow after you buy it... go nuts it's your tractor. You want to go into business and sell lawn mowers painted a very particular shade of green and yellow and sell them... because what? You aren't trying to confuse people into thinking they are john deere? Really?

          It's on par with trademarks on genes found nature.

          The trouble with genes in particular; natural or even not, is that they exist to be spread and copied by biological processes, and they further arise from random mutation. "Owning" intellectual property on something that literally exists to be copied and spread and which can also spontaneously spring into existence where it wasn't before should clearly be a setup for all kinds of inevitable ridiculousness.

          • This can get out of hand. Harley Davidson and John Deere are both making stuff beyond their classic line of goods. I can see trouble when they come up with a new product who clashes with an existing business.
            • Yeah, I think a lot of people are confused by exactly how narrow the context is for the Trademark...

              This would have just covered cereal boxes, but there are already a dozen other yellow cereal boxes.

          • by bigtiny ( 236798 )

            I once worked for a small company that built custom crates and rigged out heavy equipment for overseas shipment. This is back in the 70s. We got a commission to build a few hundred boxes to transport electronic equipment. This was for a local facility of Westinghouse Corp. The specs were very detailed for these -- marine grade plywood, certain types of nails, certain fittings, and there were a variety of dimension and such. Upon completion, and before delivery they were all to be spray painted with 'Westing

          • Absolutely ridiculous. What's next? Patenting the color of the sky? Gee, I hope they don't put a patent on farts. Should I sound the same as one that has been patented; I would get sued. Enough with stupid patents!!
        • Anyone who thinks a company should be allowed to trademark a particular wavelength of light. It's on par with trademarks on genes found nature.

          Well yes, but...that is the purpose of trademarks, which includes packaging designs: to allow producers to fend off competing products that fraudulently make look-alike packaging to deceive the buyer.

          There are many many many other colors in the rainbow you can use as the backgeound of an oats-specific box, to say nothing of complex designs.

    • So I assume they'd have to describe it by the hex code or 3x 8-bit integer RGB code (same thing) so just change 231 to 230 on red for example and tada, now it's not their color. Like it's legally proveably not their color even though visually it'd be virtually indistinguishable. They were idiots for even trying.

      Maybe so, but I can understand it. I walked into and ALDI the other day and saw several knock-off cereals whose boxes were made to mimic the brand name in as much detail as possible. It was so blatant it turned me off, and I can be a cheap bastrd. If you want to sell a Cheerios knockoff fine, but not need to try to make the box look exactly the same from 10 feet.

      • Shops at ALDI... doesn't expect cheap knockoffs... the entire theme of the store is cutting corners, what were you expecting?
      • Enforcing trademarks is a civil matter and it's up to the trademark owner to police their own trademarks, failing to do so may result in the loss of said trademark.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Sorry, if it's a jury trial, they'll go, "Hex what? It's yellow to me."

  • http://www.thecondongroup.com.... [thecondongroup.com.au]

    Though, if I had to say, I think that purple is a LOT more distinct than the Cheerio's yellow.

    • by spun ( 1352 )

      Or go with the guys who defend 26.2 Performance Apparel's trademark of the number "26.2"

      • by jonwil ( 467024 )

        Didn't Intel try to trademark "486" and get blocked from doing so?

        • by xlsior ( 524145 )
          Didn't Intel try to trademark "486" and get blocked from doing so?

          Hence 'Pentium' instead of 586.
          • I ran a little audio production outfit once upon a time called Avi Gobbler Productions. One day I got an email from a guy in Holland who sold "Gobbler Anti-Virus" and demanded I stop using the word "Gobbler" in my company name, as it infringed his trademark.

            When I wrote back pointing out that my trademark predated his by a number of years, I never heard from him again. But he didn't have a case in any event.

  • speak of the devil (Score:4, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Thursday August 24, 2017 @06:35PM (#55079319)

    When 'Liking' a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue [nytimes.com] — 16 April 2014

    Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights?

    General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, "join" it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

    Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

    It's not the first time we've been taxed unreasonably for touching a toe to the yellow brick road, Dorothy.

    General Mills Kansas City flour plant likely behind E. coli outbreak [reuters.com] — 1 June 2016

    Flour produced at a General Mills Inc plant in Kansas City, Missouri, was probably the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 38 people across 20 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

    Ten people have been hospitalized in the outbreak, the CDC said.

    Though for our own safety, we really have to stop meeting like this.

  • It's funny, I really do associate the yellow box with Cheerios, it really is a distinctive feature of the brand. Furthermore, there are items on that list that I associate less with their trademarked colors then I do with Cheerios. Especially T-mobile magenta.

    On the other hand, I feel like trademarking a color is bullshit.

    My thirty seconds reading the article elicited a complex range of opinions that are sure to disappear 5 minutes after I've posted this

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24, 2017 @07:08PM (#55079533)

      Trademarking yellow is obviously bull. But the actual suit was:
      1) that yellow when combined with
      2) breakfast cereal
      3) oat based
      4) torus shaped

      I hate IP as much as the next self entitled youtube downloader, but 1-4 seems fair.

      • by mtmra70 ( 964928 )

        Trademarking yellow is obviously bull. But the actual suit was:
        1) that yellow when combined with
        2) breakfast cereal
        3) oat based
        4) torus shaped

        I hate IP as much as the next self entitled youtube downloader, but 1-4 seems fair.

        I agree, however the judge noted that there are other competitors out there using the same similar colors on similar cereal products. When it came to the TMO, Home Depot, etc, examples, no other competitor was using the requested color and thus the trademark was granted. I can see General Mills point, but I also agree with the judge in this case.

    • by martinX ( 672498 )

      Cadbury has a trademark on their colour purple [ipaustralia.gov.au] in Australia. About the time the trademark was being decided upon, I walked into an Aldi and, from a distance, saw some chocolates in purple boxes, exactly the same purple (or close enough to be confusing) and I immediately assumed it was Cadbury's chocolate.

      So, yeah, trademarking a Pantone colour - I can see why some organisations do it.

      • by skam240 ( 789197 )

        and I hope they take you away with the commies. There's always been a small part of me that has liked unnecessarily loud cars and motorcycles as it lets me spot the asshole. Your signature does much the same for me.

        So many lives have been lost to communists but so many lives have been lost to anti-communists. You're either profoundly naive or a degenerate. When the heavens open it wont be communists that go to hell first, it will be those who chose to sell their fellow man to those who came for them. It's t

        • 1: His sig is a joke based on the famous saying.
          2. Communists have killed farm more than anti-communists.

          Lighten up, life is more enjoyable if you aren't getting offended by every little joke.
          • by skam240 ( 789197 )

            The point of the joke in a modern context is to discredit the modern left, not to be funny. Really, if that's the best the poster can do at humor then they are in a sad state. I know some good dick and fart jokes that would go a lot farther than that partisan crap.

            Furthermore, pointing out that those who fought an extreme were less lethal then the extreme they were fighting is hardly insightful. Ideological extremes lend themselves to violence.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Thursday August 24, 2017 @06:50PM (#55079423)

    Not sure you guys have this in the U.S.A. but up here we have this brand called "NO NAME" and all their packages are yellow [google.com].

    • by skam240 ( 789197 )

      Jesus, what country do you live in? That's some of the worst product packaging I've ever seen. I'm looking at a bottle of chili sauce in that link and have absolutely no interest in buying it despite the fact that I love chili sauce.

      In answer to your question though, I've never seen that brand in the US.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I don't shop there personally, but people who do seem to like the products, and they'd probably buy the chili sauce for example because they know it will be half decent at a really cheap price.

      • As per the subject, that country would be Canada. And for all its ugly labels, the "no name" brand is pretty much the top selling grocery brand in the country.

        When initially launched int he late 70s, the simple black-on-yellow labelling was actually part of the sales pitch -- that you could get quality products for cheaper than the major brand names in part because they don't waste money on fancy packaging. There isn't much in the way of marketing, and they're primarily sold in stores owned by the same pa

      • The US used to have a similar line called Generic. White boxes with bold black block lettering. Now it's mostly been replaced with store-brand products.

        The idea is the same. Drop the brand name and it's expensive advertising for a lower cost.
        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          The guy doing some work remodeling my kitchen found a box of mac and cheese of that brand some how buried behind the old cabinets. I was super happy that he saved it to give to me.

          I keep it on display in my kitchen and get a lot of comments and questions about it.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Jesus, what country do you live in? That's some of the worst product packaging I've ever seen. I'm looking at a bottle of chili sauce in that link and have absolutely no interest in buying it despite the fact that I love chili sauce.

        In answer to your question though, I've never seen that brand in the US.

        Of course you wouldn't/ "No Name" is the store brand for the Loblaws group, which owns a bunch of grocery and drug stores in Canada, including Real Canadian Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart, T&T Supermarke

        • by skam240 ( 789197 )

          I was raised to chase deals by a Dad who would tell stories at the dinner table about what good deals he got on what, especially if it was what we were currently eating. He didn't buy things because they were on sale mind you, he just found the deals for the stuff he wanted and was patient enough to wait. Even then, I feel like I might shop elsewhere if only not to hurt my eyes.

    • Funny thing though - I didn't see any yellow boxes of round, oat based cereal in that search.

    • Years ago we got some generic "light beer" in a yellow can like this.
    • Not sure you guys have this in the U.S.A. but up here we have this brand called "NO NAME" and all their packages are yellow.

      We used to have a supermarket called Alpha Beta which carried generic foods. (There is no Wikipedia article on "generic food, this seems like a huge missed opportunity — though not a huge missed steak, because they didn't have generic meats.) There was no brand on the box, it just said what it was. But then "Generic" became a brand, and about the same time Alpha Beta merged with Lucky's, I forget who bought who there but they used the Lucky's name. And they dropped most of that stuff at that time, IIR

  • I am more likely to associate the John Deere colors with the Oregon Ducks, before I think of John Deere.

  • Yellow is NOT the primary background color on most of their boxes...

    Their primary background colors include brown, orange, blue, green, pink, purple, and red.

    It's no wonder they weren't granted a trademark for yellow.

    • I think you're having trouble with the word primary.

      Yellow is a primary color in the Subtractive color system. Also most of the front of the box is yellow if you want to go with the mundane definition of primary.

    • Please provide a link to a box of Cheerios with those colors as the primary background color.

  • I am more than mildly color blind and I'll have to take your word as to the color of a box of cheerios, most things look what I've grown to call grey. I say grey because that is what someone told me was grey when I was in grade school long ago.

  • Why don't the courts ever give big corporations a break? They're people too, you know. /s
  • Didn't Apple try to trademark rounded corners? Thus if you made a yellow box with rounded corners, you'd get sued by two conglomerates. Put one button on it and Amazon would also join the party.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Didn't Apple try to trademark rounded corners?

      Nope. Never did, either.

      They have a Design Patent (not to be confused with Utility Patent) for a device with rounded corners AND a grid of icons AND a sub grid of icons that remains static. (Which matches no default Android device ever - the home screen may have a static sub-grid, but it lacks a grid of icons (it has widgets and icons), while the app launcher may be a grid of icons, but lacks the sub grid.).

      Yes, you work around design patents by not doing some

  • Barbie pink is not a Pantone color and can't be produced exactly on a CMYK printer. The color is a custom layer on the packaging. So that's one way to protect yourself albeit an expensive one.

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