Ponderings with Doug- December 27, 2019

I confess that I am not paying full attention to the conflict. It appears The Ohio State University and some sports merchandising concern are locked in a battle to the death over the letter “O.” Who owns the letter “O” for adverting and logo purposes? Then, while we are at it, let’s have The Ohio State University and Oklahoma State University duke it out in court over who owns the rights to “OSU.”

One would think the letter “O” and even the three letters in sequence “OSU” would some how fall into that mystical land known as the public domain. Who owns “O” and “OSU?” If you turn the “O” into a smiley face, then you have really opened a can of worms.

“It’s largely accepted that the original version of the familiar smiley face was first created 50 years ago in Worcester, Massachusetts, by the late Harvey Ross Ball, an American graphic artist and ad man.

Ball came up with the image in 1963 when he was commissioned to create a graphic to raise morale among the employees of an insurance company after a series of difficult mergers and acquisitions. Ball finished the design in less than 10 minutes and was paid $45 for his work. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company (now Allmerica Financial Corporation) made posters, buttons and signs adorned with the jaundiced grin in the attempt to get their employees to smile more. Neither Ball nor State Mutual tried to trademark or copyright the design.

In the early 1970s, brothers Bernard and Murray Spain, owners of two Hallmark card shops in Philadelphia, came across the image in a button shop, noticed that it was incredibly popular, and simply appropriated it. They knew that Harvey Ball came up with the design in the 1960s, but after adding the slogan “Have a Happy Day” to the smile, the Brothers Spain were able to copyright the revised mark in 1971, and immediately began producing their own novelty items. By the end of the year they had sold more than 50 million buttons and countless other products. …

In Europe, there is another claimant to the smiley. In 1972, French journalist Franklin Loufrani became the first person to register the mark for commercial use. … Today, the Smiley Company makes more than $130 million a year and is one of the top 100 licensing companies of the world. The company has taken a simple graphic gesture and transformed it into an enormous business. …

When the Smiley Company attempted to trademark the image in the United States in 1997, they became embroiled in a legal battle with Walmart, which started using the smiley face as a corporate logo in 1996 and tried to claim ownership of it (because of course they did.) The lawsuit lasted 10 years and cost both companies millions of dollars. It was settled out of court in 2007 but its terms remain undisclosed.”

I wonder what participants in the “O” battle or even the “OSU” battle would think about Jesus’ hope for us to “turn the other cheek?” How would your life change, if one of your resolutions for 2020 involved “rather than engaging the battle you decide to walk away?” To answer that speculative question, we must engage another Jesus saying.

“Count the cost.”