Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co.

Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Inc. 

  • ISSUE:
    • Whether the Lantham Trademark Act permits the registration of a trademark that consists, purely and simply, of a color.
  • FACTS:
    • Qualitex manufactures press pads used by dry cleaners which are a special shade of green/gold. A rival manufacturer, Jacobson Products, started using a similar shade of green when manufacturing its press pads. Qualitex registered the green/gold color that it used in manufacturing the press pads, and then filed a lawsuit against Jacobson Products claiming trademark infringement for the use of the green/gold color.
    • Over time, a customer may come to treat a particular color on a product or its packaging as signifying a brand.
      • If so, this means the color would have come to identify and distinguish the goods, and indicate their source.
    • Color can achieve secondary meaning.
      • Primary meaning is just…a color.
      • Secondary meaning is when it identifies a specific brand that consumers recognize.
      • Secondary meaning is acquired when “in the minds of the public, the primary significance of a product feature…is to identify the source of the product rather than the product itself.
    • Functionality Doctrine
      • Prevents trademark law, which seeks to promote competition by protecting a firm’s reputation, from instead inhabiting legitimate competition by allowing a producer to control a useful product feature.
      • A product feature is functional and cannot serve as a trademark, “if it is essential to the use or purpose of the article or if it affects the cost or quality of the article,” that is, if exclusive use of the feature would put competitors at a significant non-reputation-related disadvantage.
      • The fact that sometimes a color is not essential to a product’s use or purpose and does not affect cost or quality indicates the doctrine of “functionality” does not create an absolute bar of the use of color alone as a mark.
      • Restatement of Unfair Competition says that if a design’s aesthetic value lies in its ability to confer a significant benefit that cannot practically be duplicated by the use of alternative designs,” then the design is functional.
        • Test is whether the recognition of trademark rights would significantly hinder competition.
    • Sometimes, a color will meet ordinary legal trademark requirements. When it does so, no special legal rule prevents color alone from serving as a trademark.

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