December 2017. US construction and heavy equipment company Caterpillar has lost its European trademark rights to its yellow triangle logo. According to the European Trademark Office EUIPO, that’s because it’s insufficiently distinctive.
Trademark registration to yellow triangle overturned
In 2016, Caterpillar registered the logo as a European trademark after supplying a large volume of evidence of its acquired distinctiveness. The company maintained that its frequent use of the yellow triangle gave it widespread recognition and hence acquired distinctiveness.
Not valid on its own
However, on 4 December 2017 the Cancellation Division ruled that evidence of use applied chiefly to the Cat and Caterpillar logos. While these certainly featured the yellow triangle, it didn’t automatically follow that consumers would recognise the yellow triangle as a trademark on its own. Verdict: no European trademark protection for the triangle.
Use of the Cat and Caterpillar logo: no acquired distinctiveness for the yellow triangle
Could Caterpillar have prevented this? The answer is yes. If you attach so much importance to a specific (simple) element of your trademark that you also want to register it as a trademark in its own right, you should make sure you also use it on its own. That’s the best way to acquire distinctiveness. EY is a good example: its own yellow logo repeatedly recurs throughout its website in various forms