The Washington Post

A distinct scent from childhood rises to join an exclusive trademark club

- BY RACHEL SIEGEL rachel.siegel@washpost.com

Sweet, slightly musky. Vanilla-like. Slight overtones of cherry. Natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.

Behold, Play-Doh. Behold, childhood.

Behold, the newest trademarke­d scent.

Hasbro became the latest company inducted into the small club of brands with a scent registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As of Friday, the Play-Doh scent trademark is one of 13 active registrati­ons, according to a spokesman from the office, joining the ranks of a strawberry-scented toothbrush and ukuleles that come with a whiff of piña colada.

Invented in 1956, Play-Doh has wedged its way under children’s fingernail­s and into living room carpets ever since. Now, the company has convinced the U.S. trademark office that consumers across the country specifical­ly link the Play-Doh smell to Hasbro’s neon modeling clay. That alone is a squishy feat. “The law tries to make it relatively difficult,” said R. Polk Wagner, an expert on intellectu­al property law at the University of Pennsylvan­ia Law School. “Not everybody can say they have the world’s most distinctiv­e scent.”

According to the patent and trademark office, scents that serve a utilitaria­n purpose — such as the scent of perfume or an air freshener — serve a function and cannot be registered as trademarks. The guidelines note that the “amount of evidence required to establish that a scent or fragrance functions as a mark is substantia­l.”

Scents also can be patented, and they generally fall into categories for cleaning and perfume compositio­ns.

Scents, colors and sounds — like the NBC chime — can be trademarke­d as long as the companies or individual­s behind them can prove that consumers have strong associatio­ns with them. Companies can provide surveys and studies demonstrat­ing how consumers link certain smells or sounds with a particular product. Still, trademarks for logos or images — such as the Nike swoosh — might carry those ties more obviously, Wagner said.

According to the patent and trademark office, other active trademarks for scents, smells, odors and fragrances include the “flowery musk scent” used in Verizon stores and a bubble-gum scent used for shoes and flip flops by the retailer Grendene. Cherry, grape and strawberry scents were trademarke­d for lubricants used for land and water vehicles by Manhattan Oil. And the jewelry company Le Vian trademarke­d a chocolate scent for its stores.

Wagner said Hasbro’s trademark could be used to lessen confusion among consumers if other companies or individual­s make products with a scent similar to Play-Doh’s. And it could provide Hasbro with an edge over competitor­s that sell toys “that are similar in function to Play-Doh, but are not called Play-Doh,” Wagner said.

Before the scent’s trademark, Hasbro debuted a Play-Doh fragrance in 2006 for the toy’s 50th birthday. The “eau de Play-Doh” rolled out just before Mother’s Day and came in a clear, oneounce spray bottle.

But not all onetime toddlers could get behind the Play-Doh scent.

In the words of one Twitter user, whoever “thought it was a good idea to trademark Play-Doh scent must have eaten too much of it as a kid.”

 ?? MADDIE MEYER/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Hasbro has convinced the U.S. trademark office that consumers link the Play-Doh smell to the company’s neon modeling clay.
MADDIE MEYER/THE WASHINGTON POST Hasbro has convinced the U.S. trademark office that consumers link the Play-Doh smell to the company’s neon modeling clay.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States