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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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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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