Harvey Ball did not have a nice day recently when he learned a Frenchman had registered a trademark for the smiley face.
As just about everyone in Ball's hometown of Worcester knows, it was Ball who designed the ubiquitous symbol of good cheer in 1963 as part of an in-house happiness program for an insurance company.Franklin Loufrani, a 55-year-old entrepreneur from France, first registered the symbol in 1971 and now holds the trademark in much of the world.
Ball, 76, didn't find any of this out until a couple of months ago.
Then he got really steamed more recently when he learned that Loufrani has threatened to sue U.S. companies that manufacture or sell products with the smiley symbol in the 80 countries where Loufrani holds the trademark.
"So much for smiley and happiness," Ball huffs.
The joyful smiley-face icon has made its way over the years onto boxer shorts, London drug houses, Wal-Mart products and countless e-mail messages.
Loufrani, president of London-based Smiley Licensing Corp., said he made up smiley while working at a French newspaper to illustrate positive stories after the student riots in 1968. Since registering the trademark, he has made millions.
The people of Worcester - which bills itself "The Birthplace of the Smiley Face" - side with Ball, however.
He said he first drew the perky yellow face in 1963 as part of a "friendship" campaign to ease tensions between employees after State Mutual Life Insurance Co. took over a small Ohio insurer.
Ball, a free-lance artist, was paid $45 to come up with a graphic. State Mutual printed 100 smiley buttons. A 1964 State Mutual publication shows company Vice President John Adams wearing one.
Ball never sought a trademark or copyright. He said he doesn't miss the millions he could have made on his creation. And he isn't planning legal action against Loufrani, who has a U.S. trademark, but only for a combination happy face and the word "smiley."
Ball just wants recognition as smiley's creator. "Never in the history of mankind or art has any single piece of art gotten such widespread favor, pleasure, enjoyment, and nothing has ever been so simply done and so easily understood in art," he said.
Loufrani, reached in London, had no comment.