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The Original Smiley Face

As someone dedicated to studying the art of licensing and branding, you can imagine my intrigue at finding an article that talks about the trademark and licensing of one of our world’s most iconic illustrations. The original trademark for the smiley face came from Paris, of all places, despite it being created in the U.S. in 1963, by a Worcester, Massachusetts-based freelance artist named Harvey Ball (granted, these are the individuals thought to have popularized the smiley face, as versions of it have been found in 4,000 year-old archaeological discoveries).

However, Mr. Ball failed to file a trademark. Seizing the opportunity, Franklin Loufrani did so, and proceeded to create a business licensing the smiley face. As this article in the Hustle tells us, “licensing…wasn’t a very popular business model in Europe at the time. Loufrani was among the earliest to venture into the space.”

His son, Nicolas, formed The Smiley Company in 1996 and secured trademarks for the ‘Smiley’ brand name in 100 countries around the world. In fact, he saw the potential and created the first graphic emoticons using Smiley icons. Today, The Smiley Company does nearly $500m per year in licensing deals, with companies like Nutella, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, VW, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

What do you think about the origins of this story? Are there stories of someone else’s creation being trademarked that you find curious?