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

August 28, 2013

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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.
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