Owned by Hasbro since 1991, Play-Doh is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous children’s toy products, and there have been more variations on the products than we could ever attempt to list. But for the first time, sensing an opportunity to further strengthen its branding, Hasbro has submitted an application to trademark the Play-Doh scent. Along with the application itself, Hasbro sent USPTO a tub of actual Play-Doh for them to actually smell.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that a company has tried to trademark the smell of a product. According to Mental Floss, the first successful instance took place in 1990, when a Californian company called OSEWEZ (pronounced ‘oh sew easy’) trademarked a “plumeria blossom-scented embroidery thread” after debating the case in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The successful application opened the floodgates for other businesses to try their luck at branding scents, including Hasbro itself.
What’s unsurprising, however, is that a smell is much harder to trademark than a name. As pointed out by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a brand must be able to supply a visual representation of the product’s scent in order to be successful. This is about as tough as it sounds, as “any written description of a smell must be so precise that that particular smell would not be confused with any other”. With respect, Hasbro gave a valiant effort in its application, describing the Play-Doh smell as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough”.
Another key factor in the trademarking of any scent is that it must not result from the nature of the product itself. For example, it is notoriously difficult to trademark the scent of a perfume, because the smell is the product. This is where the description of the scent really becomes crucial to the application, as it needs to persuade the decision makers that the smell is merely an accompaniment to the product itself.
Finally, there’s the simple fact that different people identify different smells. Just think of a wine tasting, for instance. Why the sommelier might be able to pick out the smells of individuals fruits in a glass of red, someone else might only be able to pick up the smell of wine.
Despite such challenges, Hasbro obviously believes confidently enough in the distinctiveness of the Play-Doh smell to file the application. If successful, we could see some very interesting products enter the marketplace soon — Play-Doh scented candles, anyone?