Trademarking colours, sounds and three-dimensional shapes

Zippo 3D Trademark registered in the UK
It is a common misconception that only words and logos can be trademarked. It is also possible  for a brand to lay claim to certain colours, sounds and  three-dimensional shapes. Although trademarks including these things are less common than word or figurative marks, they can be just as significant when it comes to protecting your brand from infringement.

A sound mark is a distinct sound or melody that has been graphically represented in musical notation. A famous sound mark is that of Harley Davidson. In 1994, in order to differentiate their brand from others in the marketplace, Harley Davidson decided to file a trademark for the sound of their engine. In this way a customer can fully distinguish their brand from their competitors at every level. Other companies that have registered sound marks are MGM studios Inc. with their Lion’s roar, Lions Gate Entertainment with Rue’s whistle from The Mockingjay (part of The Hunger Games trilogy) and the siren of the US Federal Signal Corporation’s fire engine.

The colour of your brand can also be trademarked. In your application, you must state each colour that you are planning to use as part of your brand. Colour marks can also be extremely useful in defining your brand from competitors in the marketplace. Some well-known brands that have colours trademarked are Christian Louboutin (who has successfully trademarked the red soles of their shoes in a number of countries around the world including the US) and the jewellers Tiffany’s who have a trademark for the colour blue. Confectionary giants Cadbury and Nestle are currently battling it out over the colour purple for their chocolate bar wrappers. Cadbury had a trademark from 1995 however, when they tried to apply for the colour purple again in 2004, Nestle filed a notice of opposition and their application was rejected. However, it seems unlikely that Cadbury will give up without a fight since they have been using this colour as part of their brand for 100 years.

Another story that has featured recently in the press is the ongoing case of Nestle’s three-dimensional mark. The firm filed an application for a three-dimensional mark in the form of a four fingered chocolate bar in 2010. However their application was opposed by Cadbury and has yet to be approved due to the shape’s lack of distinction as a feature in customer’s recognition of the brand. In order to protect your brand even further, you can file a trademark for the shape of your product or its packaging as long as it is distinct from the general form found in your marketplace. In addition the trademark must not give one company a technical monopoly. These are the trademarks that are the most difficult to successfully register as the criteria are so specific, however they do provide a significant level of protection for the brand. Popular products or packing types to trademark include perfume bottles, headphones and bottles (the Coca cola bottle was granted its three-dimensional trademark in the US in 1960).

For advice and more information on searching, acquiring, registering and enforcing Trademarks please visit our website,
Our unique database of trademarks for sale or license could save you time and help protect your brand.