Cadbury retains hold over its trademarked shade of purple

Pantone 2685 is Cadbury's special colour.

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.

The protected shade of purple.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.