Some companies’ products have become so associated with a particular symbol or color in the public mind that it is effectively impossible to separate them. Think of McDonald’s “golden arches” or the Apple logo.
Almost everyone is familiar with the green-and-yellow logo with the leaping deer found on John Deere tractors, lawnmowers, and caps. Deere & Co. wants to make sure that those colors remain associated with Deere products and only Deere products, and it is celebrating a recent trademark victory in a Kentucky federal court.
The Illinois-based farm equipment giant brought a trademark infringement suit against FIMCO, Inc., a South Dakota-based maker of pesticide sprayers, for its use of green and yellow on its equipment. The complaint alleged federal trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution, as well as trademark infringement under Kentucky state law.
Deere’s iconic color scheme was registered as a trademark in 1988, and the company has been aggressive about enforcing it in court. Deere claimed that by using the recognizable color combination, FIMCO knowingly attempted to associate its products with the Deere brand in the public mind, with the effect of diluting the value of the trademark.
District Court Judge Thomas B. Russell of the Western District of Kentucky found in favor of Deere on all claims after a week-long bench trial, permanently enjoining FIMCO’s use of the color scheme on its equipment.
The court found that John Deere’s green and yellow color combination has qualified as a “famous” trademark since the late 1960s and that FIMCO intentionally chose the colors to create an association with the John Deere brand. The court also found that FIMCO’s use of the colors on its machinery was likely to cause confusion among consumers as to whether its agricultural equipment was made by or endorsed by John Deere.
Russell rejected FIMCO’s argument that green and yellow are colors generally associated with agriculture, and ruled that FIMCO could use either green or yellow on its products but not the two colors together.
Quad City Times reported that Deere has asked approximately 40 companies to stop using green and yellow, and FIMCO was one of only several that refused. However, Deere has been unsuccessful in asserting trademark rights for the color green alone, according to Bloomberg Law.
“This is part of our ongoing effort to ensure the public can recognize our equipment and know that it came from Deere and not confuse it with somebody else,” Deere stated in a press release.
The court gave FIMCO 60 days to file a plan on how it will comply with the permanent ban.
The case is Deere & Co. v. Fimco Inc., W.D. Ky., No. 15-105 (10/13/17).
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