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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Colours as Registered Trademarks

The pharmaceutical industry has been moving away from the traditional research-driven business model to one that is motivated by the marketing of major branded products. Compelled by the need to create bestseller products and then defend their sales post-patent expiry, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using the power of branding to capture the hearts and minds of the public.

Colours are often the central element of a product's branding, and reputation can be built on colour alone. By way of example, AstraZeneca's Losec was promoted as the 'purple pill' in advertisements, and the replacement for Losec - Nexium - is the same colour and is referred to as 'the new purple pill'. Also, in advertisements for Pfizer's Viagra, Bob Dole refers to the pill as his 'little blue friend'. So to what extent can companies protect the colours of their products and packaging as national trademarks in the UK, or alternatively as community trademarks (CTMs)?

This article will briefly discuss the advantages of registered Trademarks and the approach taken by the UK Trade Marks Registry and the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market (OHIM) (which grants CTMs) towards the registration of colours as trademarks. It will then discuss the recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision in Libertel Groep BV v Benelux-Merkenbureau (1), which will have an important impact on the way in which EU trademark offices will approach applications to register colour marks in the future and consequently on the way colours will be used in the pharmaceutical industry as source identifiers.


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By Sara Elwyn Jones, Associate at Taylor Wessing

Sara Elwyn Jones is an Associate in the intellectual property department of the London office of Taylor Wessing, an international law firm. After studying Law and French at Cardiff University and taking her Law Society finals at Nottingham, Sara trained for two years with the firm before qualifying into the intellectual property department two years ago. Sara specialises in all aspects of intellectual property including both contentious and non-contentious work.

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Sara Elwyn Jones
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