Frown-inducing accusations have been flying in a trademark dispute between Wal-Mart Stores and a company owned by a French family over American commercial rights to the ubiquitous yellow symbol for happiness. Both parties say they expect victory when the United States Patent and Trademark Office rules on the case this summer.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, says the yellow face has long personified its price-reducing policy, while SmileyWorld, the London-based company that first registered rights to the symbol decades ago, says its globally established business stands at risk.
.... Marc E. Ackerman, a New York-based partner at the White & Case law firm and a specialist in United States trademark law, said, "Here in the U.S., we consider how heavily a trademark is used, and that would give SmileyWorld a big uphill battle."
....To Wal-Mart, which has photographs of smiley faces in its stores dating back to 1996, Mr. Loufrani is a trademark troll registering the symbol in as many product categories as possible.
"They are applying for rights over the smiley face in product categories that include animal semen," John Simley, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said. "It shows they are trying to trademark everything they possibly can."
Well, no wonder they're smiling.
Wal-Mart lodged a notice of opposition to SmileyWorld's trademark application and then filed a separate application to trademark the smiley face in relation to retail services.
.... With legal fees topping half a million dollars, the Wal-Mart dispute is the most costly ever faced by SmileyWorld, said Mr. Loufrani's son, Nicolas, 35, who now runs the company.