Trademark Law and Practice, Pages 132–137

Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States, 1995

Facts:

Qualitex made their pads sold to dry cleaning firms a special shade of green-gold. Jacobson then started selling its own pads in a similar color. Qualitex then added the trademark infringement count to a suit it had already brought against Jacobson.

Procedural History:

  • Qualitex won in district court.

  • Court of appeals set aside the judgment on the trademark infringement because it did not think colors alone could be trademarked.

Issue:

Can a color be trademarked?

Reasoning:

Many odd things have been trademarked—Coke's bottle's shape, NBC's chimes, and sewing threads' scents. As long as the color fulfills the statute by being used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the owner's unique product, it can be a trademark. If it helps consumers distinguish quality goods, then the trademark is fulfilling its purpose.

As Qualitex's green-gold color was distinctive, non-functional, and there is no competitive need for colors to remain available in the industry, it is not barred from being a trademark. Customers identified it as being Qualitex's, showing that it was given a secondary meaning. Because of this, it was a valid trademark.

Rule/Holding:

A color can be a trademark as long as it is distinctive, non-functional, and there is no competitive need for colors to remain available in the industry.

Judgment:

Reversed.

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