Business / Companies

Court confirms John Deere's iconic colors

By Zhang Zhao (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-08 07:07
Court confirms John Deere's iconic colors
John Deere tractors, long known for their green and yellow colors, attract farmers in a Zhejiang province showroom. Bao Kangxuan / for China Daily

The color combination of a green body and yellow wheels is not simply a symbol of John Deere tractors.

It is a trademark of the international agricultural equipment giant, the Beijing intermediate court ruled late last month.

The US company's China division won its case when the court found its competitor violated John Deere's rights to a green and yellow combination on heavy equipment.

It was the first lawsuit in China involving infringement on a color combination trademark since the category came under the protection of the trademark law in 2001.

The court verdict said the Qingdao and Beijing branches of Jotec International Heavy Industry must pay a total of 450,000 yuan ($74,340) in compensation, Legal Daily reported.

John Deere established its China office in 1997 to produce machinery including tractors and harvesters. All its products are painted with the familiar combination of green and yellow.

The design was recognized as a trademark in 2009 in the category of agricultural equipment and dump trucks. The trademark remains valid until 2019.

John Deere executives said that the iconic heavy equipment maker has "always used the design, so that it has become a prominent and well-known feature recognized by both industry insiders and consumers".

But two years after its Chinese color trademark took effect, the company found the two Jotec operations also used the color combination on some of their harvesters and promotional materials.

John Deere then filed suit asking for 500,000 yuan in compensation.

Although the two defendants said the colors used on their products are not the same as John Deere's and would not lead to consumer confusion, the court found it was the same arrangement as the plaintiff's.

China's trademark law says a color combination trademark must have at least two colors to distinguish different products or services. The form and shape can change with the product itself.

John Deere's trademark application specified the use of a green body and yellow wheels on its machinery.

The disputed harvesters produced by Jotec used similar colors and the same arrangement, which created a style "very close to John Deere's products", said the court.

The nation's first dispute over a color combination trademark came when Swedish tool maker Kapman AB was denied a trademark for its saw blades in 2002 using orange and blue colors.

The trademark was not approved because the design was deemed to be "too simple".

The company appealed to the Trademark Appeal Board, claiming the combination of colors painted on the saw blades was "not commonly used" and is distinct from other products. But the board rejected the appeal, believing the company failed to prove its argument.

Kapman filed a court suit against the board in 2005, but did not win the appeal.


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