T-Mobile is suing AT&T over its use of ‘magenta.’ But what does ‘magenta’ mean, anyway?

August 28, 2013

GARY HE/INSIDER IMAGES/HANDOUT/EPA

Did one telecom company use another's trademarked color on purpose?

That's what T-Mobile is arguing, at least as far as telecom services go. In a new lawsuit against AT&T — or rather, an AT&T subsidiary called Aio Wireless, T-Mobile accuses Aio of using its traditional color, magenta, to brand new services and says that it could result in the two companies getting confused.

"With full knowledge of T-Mobile’s use of magenta, AT&T’s subsidiary chose — out of all the colors in the spectrum — magenta to advertise, market and promote its wireless services in direct competition with T-Mobile," the formal complaint reads. "Aio does not use the orange coverage map of its parent company, but instead uses in its stores and on its website a magenta coverage map that is strikingly similar in color to the one used by T-Mobile."

A T-Mobile spokesperson later added that AT&T "has been trying to get a free ride from T-Mobile’s success . . . . We filed this lawsuit to stop them, and to protect T-Mobile’s powerful magenta trademark."

This isn't the first time T-Mobile has tried to block others from using its color. But what does T-Mobile really mean when it says "magenta"? It's only slightly more specific than saying "purple," but it's still a broad term that could capture any number of hues. In fact, a quick survey of T-Mobile's own materials online appears to show that T-Mobile has sometimes used various shades of magenta.

If you take various screenshots of said samples and identify the colors using Photoshop, you get different results. For example:

tmobile magenta


Converted into the common hex format, those two colors are #ed008c and #e10174, respectively.

Now let's look at Aio's logo, grabbed from their website.


In hex, Aio's version of magenta maps to #960051.

If you really want to get technical, T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, owns a German trademark for shade of magenta known as RAL 4010, which translates to hex #c63678. In 2007, Deutsche Telekom registered a trademark on magenta with the U.S. Patent Office. Here's the canonical T-Mobile magenta, as expressed in the company's court filing:

tmobile trademark magenta

Which is still not the same as Aio's color, though if Aio called its color magenta, then there'd be problems.

Update: An AT&T spokesperson Aio spokesperson, Kathy Van Buskirk, fired back in a snarky reply: "T-Mobile needs an art lesson. Aio doesn’t do magenta."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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