US retail giant seeks to own the Smiley Face logo in the “retail sector”. Numerous parties disagree..

Feh. Despite being gazillionaires many times over, Wal-Mart just can’t stop themselves being a royal, bullying pain. According to the BBC news the retail giant is looking to trademark the famous Smiley Face logo in the US and the Frenchman who originally designed the mark is opposing the move. The Smiley Face logo was originally a graphic representation of 1970’s counter-culture, but has recently made inroads wal-mart-smiley-face-signinto the Internet generation as a comment in e-mails and forum posts. Since 1996, Wal-Mart has utilized the Smiley in their advertising, store POP and so-called ‘associate’ uniform vests. Accordingly they want exclusive rights in the “retail sector”. Franklin Loufrani, one of the people who claim to have designed the ubiquitous mark has marketed the logo since the 1970s through his company Smiley World and own the rights to the logo in over 80 countries. According to the BBC report, the US is not included in this trademark list, and SmileyWorld and Wal-Mart are now duking it out at the US Patent and Trademark Office. Ownership of the Smiley Face, believed by many to be in the ‘public domain’ (and thus, free for use for anyone), is not exactly clear cut. According to the BBC, the authorship of the smiley face is hotly disputed:

“While Mr Loufrani says he came up with the image in 1968, American Harvey Ball contends that he first designed the logo in 1963.”

Mr Ball, a Massachusetts graphic artist, claims he devised the cartoon logo to cheer up disgruntled staff at a newly merged insurance firm. wal-mart-smiley-credit-cardAnother American, Seattle-based advertiser David Stern, also claims to have invented the image. Mr Sterns says he devised the sign in 1967 as part of an advertisement campaign for financial services firm Washington Mutual.Both Mr Ball and Mr Stern further say that they did not think of trademarking the image at the time.

Multiple claims to ownership of Smiley

Since the 1970s, the smiley face has been adopted by a number of different groups. It appears on number plates in the US state of Kentucky, has been featured on an American postage stamp and was the unofficial symbol of the late 1980s acid house dance music movement. The image was also spoofed in the 1994 movie Forest Gump, in which the title character inadvertently comes up with the logo by rubbing his wet and dirty face on a white T-shirt.

Wal-Mart wants to own it.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley told the Los Angeles Times that it had not moved to register the trademark until Mr Loufrani had threatened to do so:

“It is kind of ironic that this whole dispute is about a smiley face,” said Mr Simley. “But in the end, it is what it is: it’s a mark that we have a tremendous investment in and is very closely identified with our company.”

Just another reason to hate Wal-Mart I guess. Should probably have a word with the publishers of Liberal Fascism as well. They seem to like the smiley face too…