Does Wal-Mart own the smiley face?

Despite the fact that the Smiley is taking more and more of a back seat in Wal-Mart's advertising and marketing (check out this blog post from a couple weeks ago), Wal-Mart is looking to trademark the smiley face. That's right: that old symbol of '70s counter-culture and all its derivatives -- maybe even including the emoticon? :-) -- is going to fall under licensing terms pursued by the Big Blue Evil if they have their way.

According to the BBC, the smiley has long been considered public domain in the US; Wal-Mart says that it wasn't going to trademark it until Frenchman Franklin Loufrani moved to do so earlier this year. Loufrani is just one of a bunch of smiley-face inventors, though; folklore in the US points to Harvey Ball as the creator. Regardless, a decision from the Patent & Trademark Office is expected this summer.

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