Despicable Colours

Minions – the mumbling yellow creatures that first appeared in the “Despicable Me” franchise, have become a phenomenon of their own, even earning them a starring role in the Universal Studios spin off film “Minions”. The films have been widely successful and Universal Studios has been careful to ensure that its success is secured as both Despicable Me and Minions are protected by way of trade marks and copyright. The trade marks cover a variety of products – ensuring that every piece of merchandise possible is protected.

Riding the wave of success these movies have brought, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment have now joined forces with the Pantone Colour Institute (which define and standardise colours for use in industry world-wide), in the production of the very first character inspired colour – Minion Yellow.

According to Pantone, Minion Yellow “heightens awareness and creates clarity, lighting the way to intelligence, originality and the resourcefulness of an open mind – this is the colour of hope, joy and optimism”. This distinctive yellow colour can now be bottled up and used in your home as Minion Yellow is available in Pantone’s home and interior palate, so you too can experience the joy and optimism that this colour was developed to impart.

It remains to be seen whether Minion Yellow will be trade marked, to add to the arsenal of intellectual property protecting Universal Studio’s widely successful franchise. If Universal Studios does decide to trade mark Minion Yellow, it may not be all smooth sailing and like the plans of the despicable masters these Minions seek to serve, there may be a few obstacles along the way.

A particular shade of colour, often identified by the allocated Pantone number, can function as a trade mark provided that it uniquely identifies or distinguishes the origin of the particular goods or services to which the colour is applied. This does not however mean that a colour (in isolation) can be owned, as trade marking a colour simply gives the company or individual the right to use the colour in respect of those particular goods or services. Examples of successful Pantone trade marks include Coke Red (Pantone 484) as well a specific turquoise colour used by Heinz for its Baked Beans. The emerald green (Pantone 3298C) used by Starbucks (who is said to opening its first African store in Johannesburg next year) is also trade marked. Christian Louboutin was also successful in registering a trade mark for the unique red soles of the famous shoes.

However not all colour trade marks have been successful. In a long waged battle against Cadbury in the UK, Nestlè was successful in its opposition of Cadbury’s trade mark for Pantone 2685C, being the distinctive purple colour used on its chocolate packaging for more than 100 years. In Australia, the authorities recently upheld Woolworths’ objections to BP’s trade mark application for Pantone 348C, being the green used in much of its branding.

It will be interesting to see, given the relatively recent decisions rejecting colour trade marks, whether Minion Yellow would be allowed as a trade mark, thereby paving the way for the rise of character inspired colours. Perhaps “Shrek green” will be coming to a paint store near you.

Hillary Brennan – Practitioner

Monty Rademeyer – Partner