Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U.S. 159, 3 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 159 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

sists, purely and simply, of a color. We conclude that, sometimes, a color will meet ordinary legal trademark requirements. And, when it does so, no special legal rule prevents color alone from serving as a trademark.


The case before us grows out of petitioner Qualitex Company's use (since the 1950's) of a special shade of green-gold color on the pads that it makes and sells to dry cleaning firms for use on dry cleaning presses. In 1989, respondent Jacobson Products (a Qualitex rival) began to sell its own press pads to dry cleaning firms; and it colored those pads a similar green gold. In 1991, Qualitex registered the special green-gold color on press pads with the Patent and Trademark Office as a trademark. Registration No. 1,633,711 (Feb. 5, 1991). Qualitex subsequently added a trademark infringement count, 15 U. S. C. 1114(1), to an unfair competition claim, 1125(a), in a lawsuit it had already filed challenging Jacobson's use of the green-gold color.

Qualitex won the lawsuit in the District Court. 21 U. S. P. Q. 2d 1457 (CD Cal. 1991). But, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit set aside the judgment in Qualitex's favor on the trademark infringement claim because, in that Circuit's view, the Lanham Act does not permit Qualitex, or anyone else, to register "color alone" as a trademark. 13 F. 3d 1297, 1300, 1302 (1994). The Courts of Appeals have differed as to whether or not the law recognizes the use of color alone as a trademark. Compare NutraSweet Co. v. Stadt Corp., 917 F. 2d 1024, 1028 (CA7 1990) (absolute prohibition against protection of color alone), with In re Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 774 F. 2d 1116, 1128 (CA Fed. 1985) (allowing registration of color pink for fiberglass insulation), and Master Distributors, Inc. v. Pako Corp., 986 F. 2d 219, 224 (CA8 1993) (declining to establish per se prohibition against protecting color alone as a trademark). Therefore, this Court granted certiorari. 512


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