Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U.S. 159, 9 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

alone as a trademark. We shall explain, in turn, why we, ultimately, find them unpersuasive.

First, Jacobson says that, if the law permits the use of color as a trademark, it will produce uncertainty and unresolvable court disputes about what shades of a color a competitor may lawfully use. Because lighting (morning sun, twilight mist) will affect perceptions of protected color, competitors and courts will suffer from "shade confusion" as they try to decide whether use of a similar color on a similar product does, or does not, confuse customers and thereby infringe a trademark. Jacobson adds that the "shade confusion" problem is "more difficult" and "far different from" the "determination of the similarity of words or symbols." Brief for Respondent 22.

We do not believe, however, that color, in this respect, is special. Courts traditionally decide quite difficult questions about whether two words or phrases or symbols are sufficiently similar, in context, to confuse buyers. They have had to compare, for example, such words as "Bonamine" and "Dramamine" (motion-sickness remedies); "Huggies" and "Dougies" (diapers); "Cheracol" and "Syrocol" (cough syrup); "Cyclone" and "Tornado" (wire fences); and "Mattres" and "1-800-Mattres" (mattress franchisor telephone numbers). See, e. g., G. D. Searle & Co. v. Chas. Pfizer & Co., 265 F. 2d 385, 389 (CA7 1959); Kimberly-Clark Corp. v. H. Douglas Enterprises, Ltd., 774 F. 2d 1144, 1146-1147 (CA Fed. 1985); Upjohn Co. v. Schwartz, 246 F. 2d 254, 262 (CA2 1957); Hancock v. American Steel & Wire Co. of N. J., 40 C. C. P. A. (Pat.) 931, 935, 203 F. 2d 737, 740-741 (1953); Dial-A-Mattress Franchise Corp. v. Page, 880 F. 2d 675, 678 (CA2 1989). Legal standards exist to guide courts in making such comparisons. See, e. g., 2 McCarthy 15.08; 1 McCarthy 11.24-11.25 ("[S]trong" marks, with greater secondary meaning, receive broader protection than "weak" marks). We do not see why courts could not apply those standards to a color, replicating, if necessary, lighting conditions under

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