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Can a Scent be Trademarked?

Posted on May 24 2018

The short answer?  Yes!

Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Hasbro, Inc. a registered trademark for the scent of its iconic Play-Doh.  Yes, you read that right - a trademark not for a brand name or a slogan, but for a scent! As self-proclaimed “Scent Stylists”, this caught our attention, and we wanted to learn more.  

Play-Doh was first introduced to the American market in 1956, where it quickly became a household staple for young children and one that still remains today.  Hasbro describes its trademarked scent as a “sweet, slightly musky, vanilla fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, combined with the smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”  How’s that for a mouthful?

So determines whether a scent or slogan can be trademarked?  For something to qualify for a trademark, it has to meet the threshold of being both nonfunctional and distinctive.  If a product feature is functional in that it is essential to the use or purpose of the product, then it cannot be trademarked.  For example, perfumes and air fresheners cannot have a trademark scent, as that is the primary purpose of those products. But in the case of Play-Doh, its scent is not essential to its functionality, but simply a identifying characteristic.  Distinctive has a fairly straightforward meaning, but proving that a scent is “distinctive” can be very difficult and is highly dependent on long-term sales. Play-doh exceeds this burden with its 50+ years of success.

As it turns out, this is not the first time a trademark has been issued for a scent.  It first happened in 1990, when a trademark was issued for the maker of a particular yarn that had a specific scent.  But it’s rarely happened since, and certainly not with a product as iconic and beloved as Play-Doh.

If you want to celebrate this unique trademark with a “Play-Doh” custom-scented candle of your own, we recommend blending any combination of Vanilla Bean, Baked Bread, Sea Foam (salt!), Amber Musk, and Cherry Blossom.  Visit any of our stores and our team of Scent Stylists can help you re-create the memories of your childhood!

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