Mean Mr. Magenta: T-Mobile vs. Engadget Mobile

May 7, 2008

T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom’s U.S. wireless division, is demanding that popular technology news blog Engadget Mobile stop using the color magenta in its logo. Exclusive use of magenta? That’s absurd.

In a March 20 letter addressed to Weblogs, Inc. (the company that runs Engadget, also owned by AOL), T-Mobile’s legal team asserts:

“T-Mobile have been using the color magenta as a company identifier and core branding element for many years. The company therefore holds trademark protection for the use of this color in connection with its products and services . . . In order to avoid any possible confusion with the consumer regarding the origin or sponsorship of your blog, we would therefore appreciate if you would replace the color magenta in the Engadget Mobile logo and discontinue using the color in a trademark-specific way on your website.”

To see the entire cease-and-desist letter, click here.

T-Mobile Vs. Engadget

As a designer and brand consultant, I believe there’s so much more to a brand than color alone. A wide range of components across identity, communications and product experience contribute to overall brand awareness.

True, some companies can “own” their colors: UPS is brown, and Coca Cola is red. But isn’t said “ownership” limited to their respective industries? I don’t see much potential for confusing T-Mobile with Engadget Mobile since their offerings are so different:

T-Mobile provides customers with wireless plans and personal communications devices in the form of cell phones and PDAs.

Engadget Mobile, on the other hand, hosts a blog dedicated to mobile industry news and reviews. The Engadget Mobile brand is actually an extension of Engadget, a media outlet with an established brand in its own right. One of the world’s most popular blogs, Engadget pulls in an astonishing 4.1 million visitors a month (source: Wired, April 2008).

I appreciate that Deutsche Telekom must protect its trademark and intellectual property, but they’ve clearly overstepped their bounds. It’s one thing to claim exclusive rights within the context of your goods, services or industry. But to lay claim across all categories, regardless of context or industry? I don’t think so.

Pepto-Bismol, watch your back. You may be next.

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