Illegal colors in Word, PowerPoint and Office, if you’re not careful

Amazingly, a simple color can be trademarked and using one in a Word, PowerPoint or Office document can be illegal.  We’ll explain why and some colors you might need to avoid.

Companies can trademark a color that’s associated with their product or logo. If you’re designing a document or presentation, especially for wide/public, distribution you might want to avoid certain colors so you don’t end up the Court of Infinite Litigation™ .

Some trademarked colors are well-known like Coca-Cola Red or UPS Brown but others have special colors like Transport for London (for their buses), sports teams and even Harvard University.

Others are obvious like Orange Mobile has a lock on a specific orange, Pantone 151.

Even color combinations can be trademarked such as Mastercard’s specific red/brown combo.

Same color, two trademarks

The same color can be trademarked by two different organizations.  Pantone 485 (#d42e12) is the color of London buses and also one of the two trademarked Mastercard colors.

It’s about the context

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t use trademarked colors at all. Modern jurisprudence isn’t that silly.

It’s about the context that the color is used.  Another delivery company would be in trouble if they printed brochures using UPS Brown. There have been long-running court battles between chocolate companies about purple.

Most cola drinks have red in their bottle and logo, but they are careful not to use Coke Red lest the full weight of the Coca-Cola Company legal department descends upon them. See below a comparison of Coke and Pepsi red.

Who needs to worry

For most people and companies all this means is bypassing colors used by business rivals or in similar industries.

Some trademarked color codes

Here’s a list of just a few trademarked colors including all those mentioned above.  The #Hex values can be used in the modern Office color picker otherwise RGB will work.  In trademark applications the Pantone colors are normally given. In some cases, Pantone has created a special ‘private’ color, see Coke Red and Tiffany Blue.

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