Green Branding Enters Its Blue Period

Just as new patent filings can indicate the direction technology is moving, trademark application data can reveal trends in branding.

This is the idea behind the Dechert law firm’s Annual Report on Trends in Trademarks (created and produced by Glenn Gunderson) in which the firm draws from the most recent year’s trademark data to highlight some new branding and marketing trends.

In 2008 the Dechert report (trends_in_trademarks_2008) focused on the explosion in green branding, demonstrated by the spike in applied-for trademarks and service marks containing eco-friendly terms such as “green,” “eco-,” and “enviro.”

Four years on, some of those terms, most notably “green,” have become ubiquitous in branding and marketing environmentally friendly products, services, and business practices. 

As a result, the term “green” has become descriptive of environmentally friendly attributes and lost the inherent distinctiveness required to obtain a U.S. trademark registration. 

This is because a mark that is “merely descriptive” of the goods or services it is being used to market or sell is not registrable without an additional showing that consumers have come to associate the mark with the source of the goods or services.

I have discussed several instances of this erosion of “green” in trademark applications in previous posts, e.g., here.

Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that another color has emerged from the green marketers’ toolbox to signal environmentally friendly attributes.

In a previous post (Is Blue the New Green?: Bollore Wins Allowance of BLUECAR Eco-Mark), I discussed Bollore Group’s successful bid to register the mark BLUECAR for, inter alia, electric vehicles and electric motors.

The BLUECAR trademark application was rejected by the trademark examiner on the basis that the mark is merely descriptive because the goods could encompass blue colored vehicles.

On appeal to the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, Bollore successfully overcame the rejection by arguing that its use of the mark in connection with environmentally friendly vehicles creates a double entendre because the word “BLUE” evokes an image of cleaner, bluer skies.

I ended that post by asking whether green might be losing its monopoly as the color of environmentally friendly products and services and stating that “perhaps blue is the new green.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I read a piece that appeared in the Economist’s The World in 2012 issue entitled The Greening of Blue.  The article noted several examples of “blue becoming the new green.”

Those include Volkswagen’s “BlueMotion” badge for efficient cars, Mercedes-Benz’s “Blueefficiency” emblem, New Holland’s “ecoBlue” low-emissions tractors, Samsung’s “Blue Earth” solar-powered phone, and, of course, Bollore’s Bluecar.

The article quotes Jack Bredenfoerder, a color expert at the brand consultancy Color Strategy, who said “green is so obvious” and blue is more serious, a global color associated with the sea and cooperation (think the UN).

So now seems to be the moment for blue in green (Miles reference intended).  Green marketers:  you’d better register your blue marks before the new color goes the way of green and becomes merely descriptive and unregistrable.

But stay tuned and stay on your toes because it won’t end here.  A veritable rainbow of green branding colors awaits; according to Bredenfoerder a new clean and efficient color will soon start to compete with blue, which raises the question: will white be the new blue?

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.