Monday, July 27, 2009

Color Infringement: Microsoft vs. Google

Lawyers for Microsoft, Inc. have filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the company's new Chrome OS color scheme infringes on the Windows logo color scheme.

Can Microsoft really own “the four colors” used in its logo and prevent others in the industry from using them even if the logo is completely different? One of the basic principles of color trademark laws in the US is that a functional color cannot be trademarked. In other words, if a company makes lawn mowers, they can’t trademark green because green is the color of lawns and is therefore a functional color. Contrary to urban myths, John Deere does not own green. (They did trademark a green paint but that’s their paint formula in a special shade of green.)

Consequently, one could say that colors and especially RGB (red, green, blue) are functional colors of all computer operating systems. Without these colors, we’d be stuck with black and white images and text on our monitors, as was the case many decades ago. I conclude that a multi-colored logo is in fact descriptive.

There’s something else that troubles me about this lawsuit: Four specific colors are in question- not just one color such as Dow Corning’s trademarked pink. The issues of color monopoly and color depletion become quite serious in Microsoft’s claim.

Although Microsoft has filed a patent for the colored logo, that’s completely different than their subsequent claim that they OWN the four colors. If Google’s Chrome logo were four circles in a layout similar to Microsoft’s four rectangles, one could argue consumer confusion. That is not the case with Chrome’s compact circular logo.

A final detail: The four colors are NOT the same! Did you notice that Microsoft uses an orange-red and Google’s Chrome a pure red. Likewise, the greens are completely different. Now I’m really on a color crusade to stop the madness!

What do you think?

One last item about truth in reporting: The news piece that reported this lawsuit included a reference to a quote by Yale law professor Amanda Reagan that Apple was forced “to load its beautifully colorful logo into Photoshop and desaturate it 80%." in Microsoft v Competitor #126. After considerable time searching for this lawsuit, I can’t find anything. In fact, Ms. Reagan is not listed as Yale Law School faculty on their web site and a search for her name coupled with “law” reveals nothing. (And we think we are deluged with bad information in our world of color consultation!) If any of you can fill in the blanks, please comment.

Source: Microsoft Sues Google For OS Color Infringement

Friday, July 17, 2009

Changing the Colors of GM's Logo

It was rumored that GM may consider changing the color of its logo from blue to green when it emerged from bankruptcy. Apparently, that’s not going to happen.

Too bad for GM! This could have been a classic case of brand transformation in the right direction. Yes, something as subtle as color can affect a consumers’ perception of a brand, a corporate image, business, and any product.

Any color change would have sent a message that the stodgy old GM products and attitudes were gone. (And blue - that GM blue - is as boring and unimaginative as many of the cars that GM expected we’d buy.)

Green would be perfect for several reasons:

1. It’s a change - and changing the color of a logo signals a big change.

2. Green delivers the powerful symbolism of eco-friendliness. Even though we’re gagging on the repetitious emphasis on "green" products today, the automotive industry and especially GM REALLY need to catch up. Philosophically, green sends the right message.

3. A green GM logo would draw attention to the company's greener product offerings such as the upcoming Chevrolet Volt and Cruze which is expected to get significantly higher mpg ratings than even the new Cobalt.

The only disadvantage might be the 1920’s racing superstition that green race cars are bad luck. The only real risk might be the association of green with money (US greenbacks) - the taxpayer’s money that was used for the bailouts.

One last thing: Brand continuity. It’s a change but not a huge shift. Blue and green are both cool colors. For that matter, green is blue’s neighbor on the color wheel. The trick is to find the right shade of green . . .and that’s where GM could have used a color consultant with an eye for nuances. Me!

Maybe they'll change their minds.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hues that cry for freedom

Green is the color that is still at the forefront of demonstrations in Iran and across the world in protest of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial victory in June's presidential elections.

This is not the first time that color has been the symbol of a revolution. A trip around the color wheel reveals other significant examples of how protesters in repressed countries are using color to get their message across.

The Yellow Revolution (aka People Power Revolution)
Philippines, 1986
After a controversial (and tainted) vote that led to Marcos' reelection, demonstrators wore yellow ribbons, the favorite color of opposition leader Corazon Aquino. Ferdinand Marcos’ government was overthrown and Aquino became the first female Asian leader.

Thailand, 2009
Thailand's election commission has approved a new political party set up by the "Yellow Shirt" protest movement which blockaded Bangkok's airports last year.

Orange Revolution
Ukraine, 2004-05
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in a fraudulent election, and supporters of his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, crowded the streets wearing orange, the color of his campaign. After two months of demonstrations, Yushchenko, who won the new election eventually called for by the Ukranian Supreme Court.

Blue Revolution
Kuwait, 2005
No regime change took place, but protesters carrying blue signs helped secure women’s right to vote.

Also worth noting:
In Georgia's Rose Revolution (2003) and Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution (2005), it was flowers, not colors, that became the symbol of the opposition.