T-Mobile parent loses exclusive rights over the color magenta in France
For the first time in 25 years, Deutsche Telekom has lost its exclusive trademark over shades of the color pink in France, including the magenta shade used in its marketing and branding for its T-Mobile brand.
A December 15 ruling from France’s patent and trademark office, the Institute National de la Properiété Industrielle, has found that the telecom giant can no longer lay claim to be the sole user of the color pink in the financial sector because the company has failed to prove “genuine use of his mark” in the past five years.
The trademark infringement case was brought to the France trademark office’s notice by New York-based insurance provider Lemonade as a preemptive strike against the telecommunications giant as the brand expands into the country. The 5-year-old Lemonade uses a similar shade of T-Mobile’s magenta in its branding and marketing materials—a color it calls “pink” (hex code #FF0083). The brand’s Instagram feed, for instance, features commissioned works of art using the brand’s particular color of pink. Over the past year, the brand has been involved in a lawsuit over the color in Germany, where Deutsche Telekom is headquartered.
In November of 2019, the pink-hued Lemonade was trying to expand its services to Germany when it was told by the German courts that it would have to cease using its color in the country as Deutsche Telekom owned the rights to the color. The ruling only applied in Germany, and so Lemonade made the appropriate changes.
But as Lemonade expands into other European countries like France (it launched in France last week), it’s making sure it can do so with its signature color and continuing its social campaign #FreeThePink, which has gained little traction outside of the company itself. Deutsche Telekom first registered its trademark of its shade of magenta, “RAL 4010,” in France in 1996.
Deutsche Telekom is one of the worlds largest telecommunications companies, offering various services in more than 50 countries. In the 2019 financial year, it estimates 66% of its 80.5 billion Euros in revenue came from outside Germany.
Lemonade’s case in Germany is the latest in a series of instances where Deutsche Telekom has soought to ban other brands from using similar, yet different shades of its T-Mobile magenta. In the past, it has sent out cease-and-desist letters to technology website Engadget, smartwatch maker OXY, information technology firm Compello in Holland and England IT shop Datajar. Deutsche has not always been successful in its efforts, however. In 2008, it filed a lawsuit against European wireless provider Telia for its use of magenta, and lost and was forced to pay Telia’s legal fees.
Lemonade is hoping that the ruling will help its efforts in keeping its color as it continues to expand in Europe.
“The French decision hopefully signals a turning point in the battle to stop trademark trolling by Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile,” said Daniel Schreiber, chief executive officer and co-founder of Lemonade, in a statement. “If some brainiac at Deutsche Telekom had invented the color, their possessiveness would make sense. Absent that, the company’s actions just smack of corporate bully tactics, where legions of lawyers attempt to hog natural resources—in this case a primary color—that rightfully belong to everyone.”
The France ruling gives Lemonade one small victory, but does not bar Deutsche Telekom from bringing other brands in different categories to court on future trademark infringement for using similar shades of pink. The results of the ruling perhaps, moreover, shows Deutsche Telekom’s lack of interest in competing with Lemonade in the finance sector in France. Deutsche Telekom did not provide evidence of its use of the color in France in the time frame the France trademark office allotted it, but can still appeal against the decision. As Lemonade is the winning party of the ruling, Deutsche Telekom also has to pay the company’s legal fees, equating to 550 euros.
A Deutsche Telekom spokesperson says that since there have been no legal proceedings in France and that the financial sector is the only area the ruling concerns, the decision “has no impact on Telekom's activities in France.” “We have not appealed against it, so it is valid,” says the spokesperson.
The spokesperson continued to describe the importance color plays in brand recognition and perception.
“Deutsche Telekom made an extraordinary, courageous entrepreneurial decision when it entered the market 30 years ago and decided to use magenta as its corporate color, against all tradition and common aesthetics,” says the spokesperson. “In doing so, Telekom defined a color for innovative strength, dynamism and digitization. With magenta, Telekom has not only set itself apart from their competitors but also created a strong and communicative color. Young companies like Lemonade are trying to exploit this familiarity for their own market launch.”
Daliah Saper, a trademark and copyright attorney and founder of Saper Law Offices, says trademark infringement over a color is especially important in today’s world where recognition is everything. “The more you can do to corner the market with your color, the better,” she says. However, she says it can be difficult to win a trade infringement case over color because the trademark owner has to prove that another brand’s use of the color is causing consumer confusion.
Even so, a trademark vanishes through time if a brand doesn’t use it. “If you’re not using it, you don’t get rights to it,” says Saper. “That’s especially true for a color. It’s going to come down to the scope and extent of that use.”