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The 10 Current Scent Trademarks Currently Recognized by the U.S. Patent Office

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Though the United States Patent and Trademark Office lets you trademark a scent, few have taken them up on the offer. Millions of conventional trademarks (logos, slogans, etc.) have been registered, but the government's filings on their olfactory counterparts could barely fill a three-ring binder—by our count, there are less than a dozen active trademarked scents.

The first trademarked smell in the U.S. was a plumeria blossom-scented embroidery thread, and it was issued in 1990. California company OSEWEZ (pronounced "Oh Sew Easy") was able to obtain the distinction after successfully arguing for it in front of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, opening the door to future scent trademarks. (OSEWEZ's plumeria thread trademark has since lapsed.)

That such a small number of these trademarks have been issued is due in part to the somewhat surprising reasoning behind what smells qualify. According to The Wall Street Journal, "In the U.S., you have to show that a fragrance serves no important practical function other than to help identify and distinguish a brand." This means that a product whose purpose is only smell-related—like perfume or air fresheners—cannot receive the protection of a scent trademark.

Also, trademark applications have to be smelled by a government examiner, so samples must be provided. As a U.S. trademark official told The Wall Street Journal, "If an examiner’s nose isn’t working, the attorney would have to find a supervisor to do the sniffing."

"The difficulty in registering a scent mark on the Principal Register appears to have deterred applicants from filing scent mark applications in the United States," explains the International Trademark Association.

Other countries are stricter still. There are no current scent trademarks registered with the EU. Australia has granted only one (for a brand of eucalyptus-scented golf tee), and the UK has two registered smell trademarks, both successfully applied for in 1994: dart feathers that smell like bitter beer, and “a floral fragrance/scent reminiscent of roses as applied to tyres” for road vehicles.

Our search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office uncovered only 10 active registered scent trademarks. One application for an orange-scented chemical used in fracking is still open and received some press attention earlier this year, but the company responsible for it seems to be letting the request lapse.

The following scents don't necessarily smell better than normal aromas—they just have better lawyers.

1. "FLOWERY MUSK SCENT" IN VERIZON STORES.

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Reg. 4618936

Verizon plans to pump this trademarked scent into their larger, "marquee" retail stores. Their application argues that the smell would help distinguish these locations from "other communications and consumer electronics retailers in an increasingly crowded field." It became an official trademark on October 7, 2014.

2. BUBBLE GUM SCENT FOR SANDALS.

Reg. 4754435

Brazilian footwear company Grendene successfully trademarked their line of bubble gum-scented jelly sandals in June, 2015. To do this, they sent the Commissioner for Trademarks an example for consideration, along with the attached note: “The applicant … respectfully submits the enclosed sandal as evidence.”

3. PIÑA COLADA SCENT TO COAT UKULELES.

Reg. 4144511

The Eddy Finn Ukulele Co. fought for the right to trademark the piña colada smell that they apply to one of their ukulele models. They won the trademark, but wound up facing problems with the product itself. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Ukuleles shipped overseas lost their scent during the voyage … so by the time their international customers plucked them, they just smelled like ukuleles."

4. THE COCONUT SMELL THAT FILLS FLIP FLOP STORES.

Reg. 4113191

Footwear chain Flip Flop Shops received a trademark for the coconut aroma they pump into their retail locations. Their application included pages and pages of press releases arguing that the scent was a key part of their brand. "Approaching from 15 feet away," one example reads, "coconut suntan oil scent and active lifestyle inspired music begins to tickle the senses and excite the toes of likely customers."

Flip Flop Shops co-owner Darin Kraetsch is a fan of many sensory experiences, it seems. "Believe me, if they had an edible flip-flop, we’d have it," he said in an interview (also included in their trademark application).

5. ROSE-SCENTED MARKETING PRODUCTS.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Reg. 3849102

This trademark is extra unique in that it was issued to an individual and not a company. The applicant, a Bulgarian citizen, and his lawyer successfully argued for the right to trademark rose-scented marketing materials by astutely playing to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's guidelines for a scent's non-functionality:

“This odor may be impregnated into promotional items such as hand wipes or soaps, or may be created by the application of geraniol to the packaging or advertising associated with promotional items which may have no odor, or may have a different odor, of their own.”

For his example, he sent in a rose-scented hand wipe packaged inside a jewelry store advertisement (pictured above).

6. "MINTY" PAIN-RELIEF PATCHES.

Reg. 3589348

Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co., a Japanese company, trademarked the "minty" scent of their pain-relief patches, a smell produced by a "mixture of highly concentrated methyl salicylate (10wt%) and menthol (3wt%)."

7. STRAWBERRY TOOTHBRUSHES.

Reg. 3332910

The application lists these as "toothbrushes impregnated with the scent of strawberries," and Lactona, the company which makes them, formally obtained the trademark in 2007.

8, 9, 10. STRAWBERRY, CHERRY, AND GRAPE LUBRICANTS FOR COMBUSTION ENGINES.

Reg. 2568512, 2596156, 2463044

These lubricants, marketed today as "Fuel Fragrances" by Manhattan Oil, make your exhaust redolent. There are nearly 20 varieties, but only three smells are on record as being trademarked: "Super Charged Strawberry," "Cherry Bomb," and "Groovy Grape." First filed in 1995, these applications are the oldest scent trademarks that are still active today.

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6 Things Americans Should Know About Net Neutrality
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Net neutrality is back in the news, as Ajit Pai—the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a noted net neutrality opponent—has announced that he plans to propose sweeping deregulations during a meeting in December 2017. The measures—which will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses use and pay for internet access—are expected to pass the small committee and possibly take effect early in 2018. Here's a brief explanation of what net neutrality is, and what the debate over it is all about.

1. IT'S NOT A LAW; IT'S A PRINCIPLE

Net neutrality is a principle in the same way that "freedom of speech" is. We have laws that enforce net neutrality (as we do for freedom of speech), but it's important to understand that it is a concept rather than a specific law.

2. IT'S ABOUT REGULATING ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

Fundamentally, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to prioritize one kind of data traffic over another. This also means they cannot block services purely for business reasons.

To give a simple example, let's say your ISP also sells cable TV service. That ISP might want to slow down your internet access to competing online TV services (or make you pay extra if you want smooth access to them). Net neutrality means that the ISP can't limit your access to online services. Specifically, it means the FCC, which regulates the ISPs, can write rules to prevent ISPs from preferring certain services—and the FCC did just that in 2015.

Proponents often talk about net neutrality as a "level playing field" for online services to compete. This leaves ISPs in a position where they are providing a commodity service—access to the internet under specific FCC regulations—and that is not always a lucrative business to be in.

3. INTERNET PROVIDERS GENERALLY OPPOSE NET NEUTRALITY

In 2014 and 2015, there was a major discussion of net neutrality that led to new FCC rules enforcing net neutrality. These rules were opposed by companies including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The whole thing came about because Verizon sued the FCC over a previous set of rules and ended up, years later, being governed by even stricter regulations.

The opposing companies see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating "fast lanes" for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.

4. TECH COMPANIES GENERALLY LOVE NET NEUTRALITY

In support of those 2015 net neutrality rules were companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, and Yahoo. These companies often argue that net neutrality has always been the de facto policy that allowed them to establish their businesses—and thus in turn should allow new businesses to emerge online in the future.

On May 7, 2014, more than 100 companies sent an open letter to the FCC "to express our support for a free and open internet":

Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.

5. THE FCC CHAIR ONCE QUOTED EMPEROR PALPATINE

Ajit Pai, who was one of the recipients of that open letter above and is now Chairman of the FCC, quoted Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when the 2015 rules supporting net neutrality were first codified. (At the time he was an FCC Commissioner.) Pai said, "Young fool ... Only now, at the end, do you understand." His point was that once the rules went into effect, they could have the opposite consequence of what their proponents intended.

The Star Wars quote-off continued when a Fight for the Future representative chimed in. As The Guardian wrote in 2015 (emphasis added):

Referring to Pai's comments Evan Greer, campaigns director at Fight for the Future, said: "What they didn't know is that when they struck down the last rules we would come back more powerful than they could possibly imagine."

6. THE TWO SIDES DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT NET NEUTRALITY'S EFFECTS ARE

The Star Wars quotes above get at a key point of the net neutrality debate: Pai believes that net neutrality stifles innovation. He was quoted in 2015 in the wake of the new net neutrality rules as saying, "permission-less innovation is a thing of the past."

Pai's statement directly contradicts the stated position of net neutrality proponents, who see net neutrality as a driver of innovation. In their open letter mentioned above, they wrote, "The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth."

In December 2016, Pai gave a speech promising to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove FCC regulations related to net neutrality. He stated that the FCC had engaged in "regulatory overreach" in its rules governing internet access.

For previous coverage of net neutrality, check out our articles What Is Net Neutrality? and What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means.

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Big Questions
Can You Expel a Sitting Senator?
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In light of recent allegations, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado this week said that if Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore “refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.” Meanwhile, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, has been involved in a high profile corruption trial, with calls that he should resign or be expelled if convicted. Has anything this drastic ever happened before?

Yes, but not for a very long time. Once you’ve been voted into the Senate, it’s difficult to get you out.

REFUSING TO SEAT

Refusing to even seat a senator is very rare, but one example from over 100 years ago also involved Alabama.

In 1913, Alabama Senator Joseph F. Johnston died just a few months after the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment allowed for direct election of senators, as well as clarifying the role of the state in calling special elections. Alabama’s governor put up Representative Henry Clayton, but he soon resigned the appointment. This was followed by Frank Glass, a local newspaper editor. As Glass was about to be seated, senators worried that his appointment was illegitimate (similar fears had surrounded Clayton). As one senator said at the time, “I believe that the [17th] Amendment means exactly what it says. It is perfectly plain and unambiguous. It simply means from this time forward every senator of the United States must be elected by the people, unless the legislature of a state by express terms empowers the executive to make temporary appointments to fill vacancies. The legislature of the state of Alabama has not given such power to the executive.”

By a vote of 32-31, the rest of the Senate agreed and refused to seat Glass, leading to a special election in 1914 that brought in a new senator.

Since then there have been multiple attempts to not seat a senator—most famously Roland Burris in 2009, who was appointed by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich under the cloud of corruption charges (though he was ultimately let in). But in reality a refusal to seat a senator is unlikely to succeed.

In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. McCormack that as long as a duly elected representative met the age, citizenship, and residence requirements of the Constitution, they could not be excluded from the House. They could be expelled after taking their seat, but not excluded. Since it’s generally felt that this ruling extends to the Senate, it would likely not be possible to exclude an elected senator from their seat. But once that seat is taken, expulsion becomes a possibility.

EXPULSION

The United States Constitution states that, “Each House may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” However, this is exceedingly rare.

The first time it happened was in the 1797 case of William Blount, one of the first two senators from Tennessee. According to the Senate, Blount had worked on a plan to take control of Spanish Florida and Louisiana and transfer them to the British with the help of Native Americans and frontiersmen. This plot was discovered and Blount was expelled, but not until he was impeached by the House of Representatives (the House has the sole power of impeachment, and it falls to the Senate to try the impeachment). The Senate ultimately decided not to try the impeachment, although whether that’s because senators believed that they themselves are unimpeachable or because Blount was unimpeachable because he had already been expelled and thus ceased being a senator is up for debate.

The next attempt at expulsion was in 1808, when Ohio’s John Smith was caught up in the Aaron Burr controversies. When it came to vote, the tally was 19 yeas for expulsion and 10 nays. Since the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority, Smith was saved from expulsion by one vote, although he would resign soon after.

The largest crop of expulsions was in 1861 and 1862, in regards to senators from southern states. As some senators were still officially members of the Senate, despite representing seceding states, it was felt that their status should be clarified by expulsion. As a result, 10 senators were expelled on July 11, 1861 (the expulsion order of one of the senators, William K. Sebastian of Arkansas, was later posthumously revoked after it was determined the charges “were as regards Sebastian merely a matter of suspicion and inference and wholly unfounded as to fact” and he didn’t commit conspiracy against the government). Later, a few more senators were expelled on the charge of supporting the rebellion. Including Sebastian, a grand total of 14 senators would be expelled during the Civil War. Since then, no senator has been expelled.

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts. Cases since the Civil War have ended in either an exoneration or the senator leaving office before the vote. The most recent near-expulsion was Nevada Senator John Ensign in 2011 under accusations that he broke federal laws while attempting to cover up an affair. At the time, Senator Barbara Boxer of California said the case was “substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion.” Ultimately, Ensign resigned.

It has been 155 years since the last senator was expelled. Whether—or when—that fact will change only time will tell.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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