Ina Fried

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T-Mobile Sees Red, Sues AT&T Subsidiary Over Magenta Infringement

There are a lot of suits in the wireless industry these days.

Color Purple

Of course there are the patent suits. Then there are class-action claims, allegations of unfair marketing. But T-Mobile may have just set a new bar for what companies are willing to sue over.

T-Mobile filed suit in federal court on Friday, alleging that Aio Wireless — a little-known AT&T prepaid brand — has engaged in trademark infringement and unfair business practices by using a hue too similar to the magenta used by T-Mobile.

“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,” T-Mobile said in its suit. “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.”

In its suit, T-Mobile seeks to force Aio Wireless to stop using magenta and turn over a share of what it believes are the company’s ill-gotten profits.

Aio said the suit is without merit.

“T-Mobile needs an art lesson,” Aio spokeswoman Kathy Van Buskirk said. “Aio doesn’t do magenta.”

Meanwhile T-Mobile maintains that AT&T was trying to confuse customers.

“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,” T-Mobile said in a statement to AllThingsD. “We filed this lawsuit to stop them, and to protect T-Mobile’s powerful magenta trademark.”

Aio, for those unfamiliar, is owned by AT&T but sells its phones in separate stores in the handful of markets it operates in. It currently sells in 11 cities: Houston, Atlanta and the Florida cities of Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Naples, Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

In addition to the debate over just how different Aio’s purple is from T-Mobile’s magenta, there is the question of whether T-Mobile has a trademark on the color magenta. It does own several trademarks in the U.S. and globally, including one for a magenta square.

But you be the judge.

Here’s Aio’s logo:

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.17.27 AM

And here’s T-Mobile’s:


T-Mobile’s suit does say that it is about more than just the logo, citing in-store displays and coverage maps it said could further confuse customers.

The color war is the latest battle between AT&T and T-Mobile, which have been engaged in an increasingly snippy fight with one another — a conflict that has played out in executive speeches, ad campaigns from both companies, and now appears headed for the courtroom.

Update: T-Mobile CEO John Legere took to Twitter to get in a shot at AT&T.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.15.43 AM

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald