Can You Own a Color?

The answer is yes, as ludicrous as it sounds, and it has been going on for years already, right under our noses. I am sure many of us have actually come across some of the examples.


The New York City jewelry company Tiffany & Co. designed a color, that is described as being a light medium robin egg blue, that they used on the cover of their publication, Tiffany's Blue Book – the book is the annual presentation of the brand's innovations in design, considered by many as the most exquisite collection of couture jewelry in the world. That first edition was published in 1845 and the light medium robin egg blue became associated with the brand. Eventually, in 1998, Tiffany & Co. registered the color as a color trademark under the name 'Tiffany Blue.' It has since become a privately curated color by Pantone, under number 1837 – which is also the year Tiffany was founded.

purple Cadbury chocolate

Another example is Cadbury's original Purple. Designated as Pantone 2685C, it was the brand's appeal since 1995 and they were the only one allowed to use such color for their candy and chocolate wrappings. But surely, we have all seen on supermarket shelves that there is another brand that uses that distinctive purple color. Indeed, just recently, Nestlé opposed Cadbury's exclusive use of the purple color on their products, especially citing that the specific purple has no distinctive character and should not be considered as exclusive. The feud went on appeal and on 2013, the UK Court of Appeal rejected the concept of exclusivity and thus allowed Nestlé to use the color on their products as well.

That is one example where we took color to court!

ink in water

But the most interesting is yet another feud that has cropped up in the recent years. Who owns the blackest black reproducible color?
In 2016, the Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor bought the exclusive rights to use Vantablack – which is currently the darkest material in the world, with a light absorption rate of 99.96%. This is only rivaled by the not-yet-released carbon nanotubes being developed by MIT engineers and which is reportedly 10 times darker than Vantablack. However, since Vantablack is a material, it still had to be made into paint. Doing so unfortunately reduced the absorption rate to 99% and the paint is codenamed Vantablack VBX2, used on the blackest car that exists – the BMW VBX6.
The idea of having exclusive rights to colors did not sit right with one artist, Stuart Semple. Semple set out his plan with a Kickstarter project and funded the manufacture of Black 3.0, which is an upgrade of his original Black 2.0, which in itself is an upgrade of our common used Black. Black 3.0 achieved an absorption rate of 97.5% - actually not bad for a color that does require exclusivity permissions.
Semple's initiative to release colors and make them available to everyone in the world has inspired KOYO Orient Japan Co. Ltd. to develop their own commercially available black paint, which they call MUSOU Black. MOUSU Black achieves an impressive 99.4% absorption rate, making it the blackest paint in the world. KOYO boldly claims to have achieved Stuart Semple's drea, of creating a generation of world's blackest paint that is available and legal for everyone to use.

As of today, there are 12 trademarked colors that require permission/ rights to use:
1. Tiffany Blue
2. UPS's Brown – also known as Pullman Brown
3. T-Mobile's Magenta
4. Target's Red
5. University of Texas's Burnt Orange
6. University of North Carolina's Carolina Blue
7. Home Depot's Orange
8. John Deere's Green & Yellow scheme
9. Caterpillar's Yellow
10. 3M's Purple
11. Cadbury's and Nestle Purple
12. VantaBlack