Properties of Green: On Color and Its Rearticulation as a Corporate Asset

Meredith Hall, The New School for Social Research

How is something made into property for the first time? This paper examines the actors and processes that transformed color into an intangible asset through a case study of the 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case, Qualitex v. Jacobson, which explicitly granted corporations the right to trademark individual colors for the first time. Bearing in mind that courts had prohibited such trademarks for most of the century, it traces color’s development trajectory as a de facto corporate possession and ultimately its institutionalization as property de jure. My findings suggest that the original acquisition of property is the outcome of a two-part process: the social construction of proper subjects as well as proper objects of property rights. In this case, that happened through the rearticulation of color as a salient object of property rights in a variety of legal texts and through the adjudication of the deserving subject of property rights to color based on quantitative metrics of creative labor. The paper concludes by addressing the broader socio-economic implications of conferring property rights on certain nodes of creative or imaginative labor—namely supply-side marketing work—and not on others—such as the “meaningful” work of consumer product qualification.

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 Presented in Session 12. Violence and Fraud