Back to the Fuschia: T-Mobile USA's panchromatic pantomime performance

Aug 30, 2013

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Even as the industry looks on with some degree of awe at the huge scale (and price) of the potential buy-out by Verizon of Vodafone's 45 per cent share in Verizon Wireless (the deal is being touted as being worth somewhere north of US$130 billion) T-Mobile USA is taking AT&T Mobility to court on the grounds that Ma Bell's Aio Wireless prepay brand is using T-Mobile USA's 'magenta' hue to dupe stupid potential customers, who, if we accept T-Mobile's contentions, can neither read nor find their buttocks with both hands, into believing that they are actually buying a T-Mobile service.

In a lawsuit filed last week in the US District Court in Texas, T-Mobile USA contends that AT&T Mobility launched its little known Aio service (currently it is only available in a few parts of a few southern states but expansion north of the Mason Dixon line is mooted for some time in the future).

Basically, T-Mobile USA is seeking to compel Aio Wireless (for some reason Aio is actually pronounced AO - the 'i' being silent, pretty much like the 'p' in swimming bath) to stop using a shade of 'magenta' in its advertising and marketing collateral and to pay out to the litigant a share of what T-Mobile USA complains is profits that have been earned through the fraudulent and illegal use a shade of purplish-pink that comes too close to T-Mobile's very own "Magenta Mark".

T-Mobile USA is ultimately owned by Deutsche Telekom (DT) of Germany and DT does own a US Patent Office trademark for a particular shade of the dreaded magenta - and has done so for six years. The variant in question has has two designations; RAL 4010 or Colour Hex #c63678.

The T-Mobile USA lawsuit says, "Through DT’s consistent and longtime use of the Magenta Mark as a cornerstone of its brand identity, the magenta color mark has become an internationally recognized symbol of DT in the world of telecommunications. DT owns and uses (by itself and through its affiliates and licensees) a number of trademarks consisting of and incorporating the Magenta Mark throughout the world, including in the United States".

However, to the untutored eye (mine, for one, or two, in fact)) the DT "Magenta Mark" and Aio's particular shade of what seems to be fuschia-ish (take a look and compare yourselves, they are all over the Internet) seem as different as chalk and cheese - but not white and yellow, if you see what I mean.

T-Mobile added, "In early 2013, T-Mobile publicly disclosed plans to compete against the incumbent telecommunications providers in a new way: by offering telecommunications services without the need for consumers to enter into a two-year or annual service contract. The dominant telecommunications provider, AT&T, responded by setting up a wholly owned subsidiary, Aio, which — out of all of the colors in the universe — chose magenta to begin promoting no-contract wireless communications services in direct competition with T-Mobile. AT&T’s subsidiary’s use of magenta to attract T-Mobile customers is likely to dilute T-Mobile’s famous magenta color trademark, and to create initial interest confusion as to the source or affiliation of AT&T’s subsidiary’s business. Defendant has thereby committed, and continues to commit, trademark dilution and infringement as well as unfair competition."

Aio's response has been straightforward and refreshingly brief. Company spokesperson Kathy Van Buskirk says the lawsuit is "ridiculous and without merit". She added, “T-Mobile needs an art lesson. Aio doesn’t do magenta.”

Stung by such upstart insolence, T-Mobile took another swipe, issuing a further statement saying, “When consumers see magenta in the wireless world, they think T-Mobile. But AT&T, through its subsidiary Aio Wireless, has been trying to get a free ride from T-Mobile’s success as America’s Un-carrier by using magenta in its marketing “We filed this lawsuit to stop them, and to protect T-Mobile’s powerful magenta trademark.”

Am I alone in thinking that this all a bit -off-colour as well as plum stupid?

And so, we reach the end of the 2013 Silly Season and what a bloody good story to go out on, Life and work return to normal on Monday but normality in this industry can still be an infinitely flexible concept - especially where the endless and endlessly puerile patent wars are concerned.

The unpallete-able truth aboiut this spat is that it is a load of old heliotrope. But enough of the purple prose - I'm off for a claret.

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