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Cadbury retains hold over its trademarked shade of purple

Pantone 2685 is Cadbury's special colour.

The protected shade of purple.
The protected shade of purple.

After fighting for almost eight years, Cadbury has finally won a high court battle over its trademark of a certain shade of the colour purple.

The chocolate company applied for the trademark back in October 2004, registering:

The colour purple (Pantone 2685C), as shown in the form of application, applied to the whole visible surface or being the predominant colour applied to the whole visible surface, of the packaging of the goods [for] chocolate in bar and tablet form, chocolate confectionery, chocolate assortments, cocoa-based beverages, chocolate-based beverages, preparations for chocolate-based beverages, chocolate cakes.

Pantone 2685C is also represented by the hex colour code #3B0084, or RGB 59-0-132. Cadbury has got a lot of stick over the intervening eight years for, effectively, trademarking a certain wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum, but the protected aspect is actually much narrower than has previously been reported. Anyone can use the purple for anything non-chocolate-related, and even other chocolate manufacturers can use it provided it isn't "the predominant colour applied to the whole visual surface" of the packaging.

Nonetheless, Nestlé, Cadbury's biggest rival, opposed the trademark. Their legal argument was that that shade of purple had no distinctive character, had been granted for too broad a range of goods, and had been applied for in bad faith, claiming that Cadbury never intended to use the mark for "the whole visible surface". In addition, Nestlé can't have avoided noticing that one of its own subsidiaries, Wonka, uses an eerily similar shade of purple in its own branding (although Wonka's is #5C2A88). Nestlé won in part, with the Intellectual Property Office ruling that Cadbury's trademark would only apply to chocolate bars and drinking chocolate, but their appeal against even that aspect is what was finally overturned yesterday, when the High Court ruled that the colour has been distinctive of Cadbury for milk chocolate since 1914.

A Cadbury spokesman told Design Week:

We welcome the decision of the High Court which allows us to register as a Trade Mark and protect our famous Colour Purple across a range of milk chocolate products. Our Colour Purple has been linked with Cadbury for more than a century and the British public have grown up understanding its link with our chocolate.

Colour protections are not unique to chocolate bars, but they have had varying degrees of success in other areas. BP attempted to trademark Pantone 348C, a shade of green, in over 20 countries, but slowly had to back away. In Britain, it lost a case it brought in 2000 against a Northern Irish oil company which was also using green on its petrol stations, and has since effectively abandoned Pantone 348C by redefining "BP Green", which is now officially Pantone 355C.

The Easy conglomerate, owners of the travel company easyJet, uses Pantone 021C, but famously got into trouble with the mobile phone company Orangewhich has trademarked the similar shade Pantone 151C – when it started easyMobile in 2004.

It's important to note, though, that all of these protections are specific to sectors. As the BBC put it:

Cadbury's, for example, can argue that their famous shade of purple cannot be used by other chocolate makers. They could not stop a firm making hats from using the same shade though, as they would be in different businesses.

Wearing Cadbury's purple would probably be a bit of a fashion faux-pas, but it's not actually illegal yet.