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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Wal-Mart Fights for 'Smiley' Ownership

The yellow smiley face may strike most people as an overused piece of e-mail shorthand, or a cute interjection in the scribbled notes passed between American teenagers, or a throwback to the era of bright happy colours in the 1970s. But to Wal-Mart, the world's largest and most controversial retailer, it represents big money and a legal battle it fully intends to win.

Wal-Mart has long since adapted the smiley face, in its familiar yellow-balloon incarnation, as its unofficial logo, plastering it on shopping bags, promotional posters and many retail items in an effort to make people feel good when visiting its often soulless, discount superstores with their endless aisles and vast suburban car parks.

Nobody has objected to that, but now Wal-Mart wants to claim the smiley as its own property. That wouldn't stop people from sticking the little yellow face in their e-mail messages, but it would prevent other retailers from incorporating the smiley in their promotional materials.

And that is raising the hackles of a Frenchman named Franklin Loufrani, who has been making a living from the commercial use of the smiley since the 1970s. His London-based company, SmileyWorld, collects royalties from the propagation of the original smiley and its many offshoots (the Santa Claus smiley, the kissing smiley, and so on) from 80 countries around the world.
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Wal-Mart Fights for 'Smiley' Ownership

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