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Trademark wars: Can other cereals use Cheerios yellow?

We all know the characteristic color of yellow featured on Cheerios cereal boxes. General Mills, the owner of Cheerios, has been trying to trademark the yellow, saying that the shade is its intellectual property and that other cereals should not be able to use it. However, after two-years of legal advocacy, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board denied General Mills' trademark request.

As a result of the decision, other brands of "toroidal-shaped, oat-based breakfast cereal" -- to use the language from the trademark request -- will be permitted to use the same yellow color in their packaging. Had the ruling been different, General Mills would have received exclusive rights to use yellow cereal boxes for its oat cereal.

In its arguments, General Mills said it deserved the trademark since consumers have long associated the yellow color with its brand. Having sold billions of dollars worth of oat cereal, General Mills has been selling Cheerios in yellow boxes since 1945.

The Review Board argued that certain colors are associated with popular brands, such as UPS "Brown" and Target "Red." However, in the cereal aisles of grocery stores, there are numerous brands of cereal that currently utilize the shade of yellow. The Review Board further stated that consumers "are more likely to view yellow packaging simply as eye-catching ornamentation customarily used for the packaging of breakfast cereals generally."

Are you seeking to trademark a certain style of packaging? Has your company suffered from trademark infringement? An Irvine trademark lawyer can help you defend your intellectual property rights from unscrupulous competitors, who may be intentionally or unintentionally hijacking your brand and customers.

Source: Arstechnica, "General Mills loses bid to trademark yellow color on Cheerios box," Aug. 24, 2017

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