–Susan Perera, Attorney

Last year I had a running discussion on color trademarks.  I blogged about the issues surrounding the protection of a color as a non-traditional trademark, the impact of industries clustering around a particular color, and the concern that functionality may impede protection of a color trademark.  Need a refresher? Check here, here, here, and here.

One of the more noticeable industry color clusters is that of fast food restaurants, which tend to use warm tones (red, yellow, and orange) for their trademarks.  Leading the way has always been McDonald’s golden arches and bright red background.  What created this industry cluster?  I speculate that it could have been caused by newcomers who wanted to emulate McDonald’s color choice, or it might be attributable to the fact that warm tones generally stimulate the appetite and are therefore a logical, yet possibly functional, color choice.

However, over the past few months I have been alerted by multiple sources that McDonald’s may be phasing out this color combination in favor of a new look.

Phil Granof kindly alerted us that McDonald’s Europe locations, while keeping the famous golden arches had ditched red for a new green background to highlight their commitment to “green” practices.   (Uh-oh, does that sound functional?)

Then just last month, Harish Bhat discussed a color makeover that had been announced for McDonald’s India to use new muted colors to attract a more mature consumer pool.  Finally, this week Emily Bryson York reported on U.S. franchises that are not abandoning the iconic color scheme, but adopting a new high-end look and ditching some of the color (like the bright red roofs).

So is McDonald’s breaking away from the industry cluster in favor of a new (potentially protectable) color combination?  It may be too early to tell.  Current reports attribute these color modifications to regional marketing initiatives to attract a greater range of clients.  We’ll have to wait and see if this new look becomes a protected feature of the McDonald’s brand.