Cheerios® may have a trademark registration for the slogan The One and Only®, but the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board shot down its attempt to register the color yellow for its box, finding that it was not the one and only cereal with a yellow box. Cheerios have been a staple on the American family’s kitchen table for decades. In case you forgot what the box looks like, it has a primarily yellow background as shown below.
General Mills sought to register just the color yellow appearing predominantly on packaging for its “O” or “toroidal-shaped” oat-based breakfast cereal.
Individual colors are capable of serving as trademarks and may be registered. Colors, however, have to be associated substantially exclusively with the applicant and must have been used so prevalently that they have acquired secondary meaning. This “secondary meaning” is a legal threshold that means that consumers associate the specific color with a specific good or service. Some of the few successful single color trademarks include UPS’s use of the color brown, the Nexium purple pill, and Tiffany’s use of the robin egg blue on its jewelry boxes and bags.
General Mills’ application was refused registration largely based on the fact that several other breakfast cereals, including some that are oat based and/or “O” shaped also use the color yellow, which is cheerful and thought to promotes the production of serotonin and happiness. Just a few cited in the Board’s decision include:
Even though General Mills was trying to limit its registration to “O” shaped oat cereal, the Board found that there was so many other products using yellow as the primary color of the cereal packaging that they could not hold that the public associated the single color yellow with Cheerios alone.
Here is a look back at the Cheerios commercial from around 1952, which apropos for today was in black and white without color: