Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U.S. 159, 12 (1995)

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170

QUALITEX CO. v. JACOBSON PRODUCTS CO.

Opinion of the Court

F. Supp. 85, 98 (SD Iowa 1982), aff'd, 721 F. 2d 253 (CA8 1983); Brunswick Corp. v. British Seagull Ltd., 35 F. 3d 1527, 1532 (CA Fed. 1994), cert. pending, No. 94-1075; see also Nor-Am Chemical v. O. M. Scott & Sons Co., 4 U. S. P. Q. 2d 1316, 1320 (ED Pa. 1987) (blue color of fertilizer held functional because it indicated the presence of nitrogen). The Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition adds that, if a design's "aesthetic value" lies in its ability to "confe[r] a significant benefit that cannot practically be duplicated by the use of alternative designs," then the design is "functional." Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition 17, Comment c, pp. 175-176 (1993). The "ultimate test of aesthetic functionality," it explains, "is whether the recognition of trademark rights would significantly hinder competition." Id., at 176.

The upshot is that, where a color serves a significant non-trademark function—whether to distinguish a heart pill from a digestive medicine or to satisfy the "noble instinct for giving the right touch of beauty to common and necessary things," G. Chesterton, Simplicity and Tolstoy 61 (1912)— courts will examine whether its use as a mark would permit one competitor (or a group) to interfere with legitimate (nontrademark-related) competition through actual or potential exclusive use of an important product ingredient. That examination should not discourage firms from creating esthetically pleasing mark designs, for it is open to their competitors to do the same. See, e. g., W. T. Rogers Co. v. Keene, 778 F. 2d 334, 343 (CA7 1985) (Posner, J.). But, ordinarily, it should prevent the anticompetitive consequences of Jacobson's hypothetical "color depletion" argument, when, and if, the circumstances of a particular case threaten "color depletion."

Third, Jacobson points to many older cases—including Supreme Court cases—in support of its position. In 1878, this Court described the common-law definition of trademark rather broadly to "consist of a name, symbol, figure, letter, form, or device, if adopted and used by a manufacturer or

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