tmobileThe T-Mobile vs. AT&T battle just got a little juicier.

The major mobile carriers, which have been throwing punches at each other recently, now have something else to fight over: colors.

No, we’re not kidding — a company is suing over a color.

aiowirelessT-Mobile filed a trademark infringement suit in a Texas federal court on Friday, accusing AT&T of stealing its trademarked magenta color for Aio Wireless, an AT&T-owned prepaid phone service.

T-Mobile claims that earlier this year, just after it introduced new pricing structure that separates the cost of wireless service from the purchase of a phone — no longer subsidizing the cost of the device as part of the service plan — AT&T introduced a similar service with Aio.

In the suit, T-Mobile states that “out of all of the colors in the universe,” AT&T picked magenta to promote its own no-contract service and “to dilute T-Mobile’s famous magenta color trademark, and to create initial interest confusion as to the source or affiliation of AT&T’s subsidiary’s business.”

T-Mobile goes into detail about its exclusive relationship with magenta, all the way back from when T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom started using the magenta trademark in the 1990s. It also provides examples of the coverage maps often found in advertising and asks why AT&T decided to use magenta instead of the orange seen on AT&T coverage maps.

T-Mobile’s coverage map:

tmobileLTEsmall

Aio’s coverage map:

aiocoveragemap

Key to note that Deutsche Telekom actually owns several U.S. Trademark Registrations for its specific “Magenta Mark,” that allows it to use the color exclusively for “telecommunication and information technology services.”

In the suit, T-Mobile asks for compensation and wants AT&T to stop using its magenta. It also suggests that AT&T destroy anything Aio-related that has magenta.

This actually isn’t the first time T-Mobile’s magenta issues have come up. Engadget wrote up a good post here in 2007 about the legal issues relating to the “Magenta Mark.”

T-Mobile CEO John Legere, always one to express his feelings about competitors the open, posted this picture on Twitter today:

So, there you have it. T-Mobile is pissed that AT&T is using its colors, although to me, Aio’s “magenta” seems a tad bit darker than T-Mobile’s trademarked color. We’ll let the courts decide on that one.

Here’s the suit in full:

Comments

  • http://StartedinSeattle.com/ Stephen Medawar

    I’d love to hear legal commentary on whether this suit has legs or not.

    Any thoughts from the lawyers in the audience?

  • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

    Colors can be protected as trademarks if they are non-functional. A trademark can’t cover all shades of a color but it’s up to the courts to decide if AT&T’s magenta-ish color is too close to T-Mobile’s in that it would confuse customers into thinking Aio was affiliated with T-mo.

    Some related reading:
    http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/can-colors-be-protected-trademarks.html
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-conventional_trademark

    • Yippee

      Agreed

  • Willy-Ray

    The AIO Billboards in the Houston area are using a much lighter shade than their website logo (more like their “Weak coverage” shade on their map) and it really does look like a T-Mobile ad. Coincidence? I think not…

    Check out the footer of their aiowireless.com website – it’s even a lighter color than their logo so they can’t get it right there, either.

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