Owning Color: Malignant trade marking and corporate greed run amuck.
12 November, 2009, 12:08 pm
Filed under: 1


Can you trademark all the colors of the wind? In his article Color: The Next Limited Resource?, author Francisco Inchauste, poses two important questions: Is Pantone a monopoly, and is color proprietary? The former really is more relevant to designers, but the latter is symptomatic of a more far reaching debate. In either case, the answer to both, whether we like it or not, is yes.

In regards to Pantone, the lexicon of pigment may have a few regional dialects, but the Pantone Matching system is spoken ‘round the world. Inchauste employs a quote from J.C. Herz of Wired that bears re-repeating, “If color is a language, Pantone is the Oxford English Dictionary.” But as far as I know, PMS, owns the intangible quality of color as much as Crayola does. They claim the process and the pigment; ink and wax, not the spectrum.

Can you (or more realistically a corporation) own light? In short, yes. Radio is light, and we’ve been selling it and much of the rest of the non-visible frequencies off for about a century now. It’s a debate in itself, but one not easily accepted by the general population because we need special tools to access radio waves, microwaves, and X-Rays, yet we’re born with the equipment for color. Because of that commonality we have an instinctual understanding that green is in the public domain.

But we live today in the world of the trademark. I can only think of it as the height of greed that we try to own, words, colors, shapes, ideas –everything. There are even acts to make DNA proprietary! The fact that this carving up of the fundamental properties of existence as a legally sanctioned practice in even the smallest case is a scary testament to the amount of power a corporation can amass. This sense of entitlement run rampant makes our society much like a group of spoiled children, the more privileged ones hording all the toys. “I saw it first!”

There is amazing power in our society and its technology to make new discoveries and breakthroughs, but the will seems to cheapen those loft goals into something more marketable: opportunities and products. Knowledge becomes pointless if the act of understanding becomes twisted into the art of commoditizing. Pantone’s taxonomy of color shouldn’t give then the right to color itself.

Jonas Salk refused the patent to the polio vaccine that he discovered so that it could benefit everyone. Most of us know firsthand that’s not how healthcare works today. Is the ethos of the ownership society one that is so unwilling to share that we must break our neighbors bike, just so we have the best one on the block? Does T-Mobile get to take the magenta Crayola crayon from my hand? Does Myriad eventually get to take my hand?


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