A couple of weeks ago I posted an Accountemps billboard advertisement that prominently features what appears to be a 3M Post-it brand removable adhesive note, and I asked whether it constitutes fair use, and whether 3M’s permission is necessary to run the advertisement, since 3M owns a federal trademark registration for the color "canary yellow" in connection with these notes.

As the comments to that post reveal, some recognize the billboard image as a 3M Post-it note, and believe permission should be required to run the ad, others were unaware that 3M has a trademark on the color canary yellow, others believe that yellow adhesive notes are generic, and several apparently believe that even if the billboard depicts a 3M canary yellow Post-it note, no permission should be required. In fact, several pointed out that yellow adhesive notes can be obtained from a variety of sources, raising the question of how close those shades of yellow are to 3M’s trademarked canary yellow?

So, just for you, I collected six different pads of yellow-colored adhesive notes and fixed them to a dark green background for a little follow-up quiz. Can you identify any "canary yellow" and name the sources of the six different yellow adhesive notes shown below (answers below the jump)?

(A) Unknown (unmarked yellow-colored removable adhesive note);

(B) 3M’s Post-it brand "Pop-up Notes" (packaging states: The color "Canary Yellow" is a trademark of 3M);

(C) Target’s Work.org brand "self-stick removable notes" (no reference to color or trademark);

(D) 3M’s Post-it brand "Recycled Notes" (packaging makes no reference to canary yellow color or trademarks);

(E) Highland brand "Self-Stick Removable Notes" (packaging refers to Highland as being a trademark of "Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing" — no reference to 3M, and no reference to "canary yellow" or color trademarks); and

(F) Office Max’s "Self-stick Pop-up Notes" (no reference to color or trademark).

All of this raises a few more questions worth asking:

(1) Since (B) and (D) appear to both be 3M’s Canary Yellow, why doesn’t 3M mention the trademarked color on packaging for its Recycled Notes? Are the Recylced Notes not Canary Yellow?

(2) Since (A), (C), and (F) closely resemble the yellow shade of 3M’s Highland brand (E), does that mean 3M views the Highland color and these others to fall outside the legal scope of protection for the Canary Yellow trademark?

(3) Where should a court draw the line in comparing color shades for purposes of determining likelihood of confusion? How should this be measured, by wavelength, colorimeter device, Pantone matching system? Doesn’t a note’s clear cellophane wrapper affect one’s visual perception of color? What about in-store lighting differences, won’t they affect one’s visual perception too? How about when outside on billboard advertising, could infringement depend on the daily weather? Sunny days infringing, cloudy days non-infringing? Lastly, what about on-line uses of color? I found that I perceived the above collage of six different color squares differently depending on which computer and monitor I viewed them from.

Has any of this changed your view one way or the other about whether Accountemps needs 3M’s permission to run the billboard ad?