Can You Trademark a Color in Your Industry? Yes, And a Tune Too

In the 1980s there were several books on business branding suggesting that companies and corporations should in fact appeal to all the known human senses with brand identification. This makes sense, and indeed, most all of this is trademark-able, as it has to do with “trade dress” and there’s a bit of common law here protecting companies who use sounds, colors, taste, touch, and even smell. Let’s discuss this.

When I franchised my company I was very much into the brand, I made sure that we used a certain thickness of paper for our flyers, we always used card stock, and they were always printed in solar bright yellow. In fact in our franchising agreement it even specified strict adherence to our trade dress. In our confidential operations manual I dictated exactly what must be done and why. It mattered to me that when the customer felt that flyer in their hands that it didn’t feel flimsy like our competition.

Our trucks were also painted in “Dodge Viper Bright Yellow” which was obviously a custom color for a work truck. We also had diamond plate, stainless steel, and glow-in-the-dark 3M premium blue decals. Our color and trade dress was very specific, and for good reason. Interestingly enough, due to the trademark laws and the benefits of common law no other competing company in our industry would be able to use those colors, and if they did they would be violating our trademark rights.

Although we didn’t have a specific or special trademarked sound, many companies are doing this now. When we are talking about sounds, consider for instance the “pin drop” for AT&T or the Microsoft Windows start-up sound? You can submit the sound on a cassette tape or in a .Wav file to the Patent and Trademark office on a USB device or attach it to an email with your online application.

Anything which is specifically connected to your trade dress can be trademarked along with your logo. If you haven’t done this with your company yet, perhaps you need to get with a branding consultant to consider all this, and then with a trademark attorney to have it all registered to protect you from imitators in the marketplace. You may as well differentiate yourself from your competitors, and enjoy the benefits of brand loyalists (your best customers) and all the clients they referred to you. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it, and act on my recommendations here.


“How to Handle Basic Copyright and Trademark Problems,” by Richard Dannay Chairman of the Practicing Law Institute Audio Cassette Program, New York, 1990, 4-cassettes on 7 sides 30-minutes each.