T-Mobile says it owns exclusive rights to the color magenta
Startup insurance provider Lemonade is trying to make the best of a sour situation after T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom claimed it owns the exclusive rights to the color magenta.
New York-based Lemonade is a 3-year-old company that lives completely online and mostly focuses on homeowners and renter’s insurance. The company uses a similar color to magenta — it says it's "pink" — in its marketing materials and its website. But Lemonade was told by German courts that it must cease using its color after launching its services in that country, which is also home to T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom. Although the ruling only applies in Germany, Lemonade says it fears the decision will set a precedent and expand to other jurisdictions such as the U.S. or Europe.
“If some brainiac at Deutsche Telekom had invented the color, their possessiveness would make sense,” Daniel Schreiber, CEO and co-founder of Lemonade, said in a statement. “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.”
A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom confirmed that it “asked the insurance company Lemonade to stop using the color magenta in the German market,” while adding that the “T” in “Deutsche Telekom” is registered to the brand. “Deutsche Telekom respects everyone’s trademark rights but expects others to do the same,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement to Ad Age.
Although Lemonade has complied with the ruling by removing its pink color from marketing materials in Germany, it’s also trying to turn the legal matter into an opportunity. The company today began throwing some shade in social media under the hashtag “#FreeThePink,” though a quick check on Twitter shows it’s gained little traction thus far: Schreiber, the company’s CEO, holds the top tweet under “#FreeThePink” with 13 retweets and 42 likes.
Lemonade also filed a motion today with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, or EUIPO, to invalidate Deutsche Telekom’s magenta trademark.
Lemonade also issued a color chart (pictured above) with which it asserts are the hues at issue.
"Here in the U.S., we do recognize trademark rights in colors, but they are not easy to acquire," says Ira E. Silfin, a trademark attorney with Mandelbaum Silfin Economou. “When they are acquired they are fairly narrow.
Not T-Mobile’s first rodeo
T-Mobile owns the trademark on a specific shade of magenta known as “RAL 4010.” Lemonade is arguing that it’s actually using the color pink, not magenta.
In 2008, Deutsche Telekom filed a lawsuit against European wireless provider Telia for its use of magenta in its marketing. Deutsche Telekom ultimately lost that case and was forced to pay Telia’s legal fees. That same year, it filed a similar complaint to popular technology website Engadget over its use of the color. It even went after a small business in the Dutch town of Zwolle in 2008. In 2015, the telecom giant made a similar move against OXY, a smartwatch maker, that used the color magenta in its logo.
“Colors are very iconic and easily identified with brands—McDonald’s and its ‘Golden’ Arches,” says Patrick Hanlon, CEO of PrimalBranding.co, a brand consultancy. “T-Mobile has a right to defend what it considers its magenta-colored turf. Lemonade has a right to attempt to invade that turf and create a media storm.”
In terms of PR buzz, Hanlon believes the situation serves Lemonade well. “When was the last time you heard anyone talking about an insurance company?” he adds.
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