Trademarking a scent is an uncommon event. This is because scents usually serve as a particular function, such as perfumes or air fresheners, where their purpose is to make something smell a certain way. Therefore, scents are typically patented rather than trademarked. While patents often protect something that serves a function, trademarks typically help consumers associate certain products with a brand. Trademarks that are most familiar include logos, symbols, and slogans. However, scents, sounds, and colors may also serve as trademarks, but trying to prove that they work as trademarks is a hard sell.
To trademark a scent, the scent must be distinctive, reminding consumers of a particular product. However, this is a rare occasion. In fact, only 13 active scent trademark registrations exist today. Although distinctive smells surround us daily, we do not typically think of a particular company or product to attach that smell to. For instance, while McDonald’s French fries or even a Starbucks coffee may have a particular smell, these smells are not distinctive enough to separate them from other fast food French Fries or coffee. For instance, when we smell greasy fries, we do not automatically think of McDonald’s. We typically just associate that smell with French fries in general.
Therefore, obtaining a trademark for a scent is a remarkable feat. However, in May of this year, Hasboro joined an elite group of scent trademark owners. The USPTO determined that the Play-Doh scent is distinctive enough for consumers to associate it with the product. Given that Hasboro has sold more than 3 billion cans of Play-Doh since 1956 and sells 100 million cans annually, it is likely that millions of people have become familiar with the scent. This means that the scent is unique enough that when consumers smell it, it reminds them of Play-Doh. It means that the scent is like no other. In comparison to other companies that have been awarded trademarks for scents, Hasboro’s Play-Doh scent was likely incidental based on its ingredients. This means that the company likely did not purposefully create a scent for its products like Verizon did to help customers associate its scent with Verizon stores. Rather, the mixed ingredients just had a particular scent that worked to Hasboro’s advantage. Filing for a trademark for that scent was a smart business move for Hasboro.