The Smiley Company

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Smiley Company
IndustryBrand licensing, Marketing
Founded1971; 49 years ago (1971) in France
Area served
Key people
Franklin Loufrani, Founder and president
Nicolas Loufrani, CEO
Revenue€ 185 million (2016)[1]
Number of employees
40 (2016)[1]

The Smiley Company is a brand licensing company that holds the rights to smiley face symbols in over 100 countries (notably not including the United States).[2][3][4] The company is considered[by whom?] one of the top 100 licensing companies in the world[5] and creates products including textiles, puzzles, party goods, stationery, automobile accessories, and toys for licensed brand partners and retailers.[6][7]


The company's signature smiley, which closely resembles the iconic smiley face created by U.S. graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball in 1963,[8][9][10] was created by journalist Franklin Loufrani in 1971 as a way to indicate to readers of the French newspaper France-Soir which stories held good news.[11] Before the campaign started, in October 1971, Loufrani registered his smiley face with the French trademark office.[12] By the 1990s, Franklin and his son Nicolas Loufrani held trademarks for the symbol in around 70 countries and had licensed the smiley to brands including Levi Strauss & Co.[11]

In 1996, the Loufranis founded the Smiley Company in London, England, built around the Smiley brand.[12] In 1997, Nicolas created hundreds of emoticons, including a 3D smiley logo.[13] Some sources incorrectly claim that Nicolas was the first to create portrait-orientation emoticons,[14][need quotation to verify] but various prior usage of portrait-format emoticons dates back to as early as 1972.[15][16][17][18] His images, registered with the United States Copyright Office in 1997, were first published as GIF files on the internet in 1998, making them the first graphical emoticons used in technology.[19][20] He launched the SmileyWorld brand shortly thereafter.[21][22] In the early 2000s, the company licensed the rights to their emoticons to telecom companies, including Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, amongst others.[23] Nicolas Loufrani compiled his graphical emoticons, along with other existing images used for communication, into an online dictionary[24] which was divided into categories,[25] and by 2002, the dictionary included over 3,000 images.[26]

In 2005, the company announced the creation of the Smiley World Association, later renamed Smiley Fund, as a charitable arm of the company, to which it donates 10 percent of its profits.[27][28]

Dispute with Walmart[edit]

In 1997, the Smiley Company filed a trademark application for its smiley with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2001, Walmart opposed the registration, citing a likelihood of confusion between the Loufrani smiley and a smiley face Walmart had been using since 1990.[29] The USPTO eventually sided with Walmart and rejected the Smiley Company's application, due to widespread use of smiley face designs. Seeking to prevent Walmart from using any smiley face design, Nicolas Loufrani next sued Walmart in federal court in 2009, while claiming that his smiley face was "readily distinguishable" from Walmart's. The case was closed in 2011 when the two parties agreed to settle out of court. The terms of the settlement were undisclosed, but Walmart continued to use its smiley design intermittently and returned to using it in a major marketing role in 2016.[30]


  1. ^ a b Hervez, Marc (9 May 2016). "Qui a Inventé le Smiley? Son Histoire va Vous Surprendre". Le Parisien.
  2. ^ Loignon, Stéphane (3 August 2009). "Ses Petits Smiley Lui Rapportent de Plus en Plus Gros". Capital.
  3. ^ "Wal-Mart Seeks Smiley Face Rights". BBC News. 8 May 2006.
  4. ^ Owen, Jeremy (29 March 2016). "Profile: Smiley World". Transform Magazine.
  5. ^ Stamp, Jimmy (13 March 2013). "Who Really Invented the Smiley Face?". Smithsonian.
  6. ^ Yvernault, Veronique (30 April 2014). "Smiley, Souriez, c'est Français!". LSA.
  7. ^ Pani, Priyanka (20 January 2014). "Smiley Bets Big on Merchandise Market". The Hindu BusinessLine.
  8. ^ Stamp, Jimmy (13 March 2013). Who really invented the Smiley face. Smithsonian. Washington DC. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  9. ^ Honan, William H. (14 April 2001). "H. R. Ball, 79, Ad Executive Credited With happy Face". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  10. ^ Adams, Cecil (23 April 1993). "Who invented the smiley face?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
  11. ^ a b Collomp, Florentin (5 January 2010). "Smiley ou l'histoire d'une OPA sur un sourire". Le Figaro.
  12. ^ a b Crampton, Thomas (5 July 2006). "Smiley Face is Serious to Company". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "With the smiley, "we get to relax everybody"". Europe 1. 4 February 2016.
  14. ^ Marcel Danesi (17 November 2016). The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  15. ^ Dear, Brian (19 September 2012). "PLATO Emoticons, revisited". Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  16. ^ "The History of Smiley Marks". Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
  17. ^ Yasumoto-Nicolson, Ken (2007-09-19). "The History of Smiley Marks (English)". Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  18. ^ "Jargon file, version 2.6.1, February 12, 1991". Retrieved 2013-03-14.
  19. ^ Rene Mahfood. "Emoji Users Are Shaping The Future Of Messaging". The Light Magazine.
  20. ^ "Niclas Loufrani in the Interview: "My father has invented the smiley face."". inter/VIEW. 23 June 2014.
  21. ^ Symbols: A Universal Language. Michael O'Mara Books. 25 October 2013. ISBN 1782430733.
  22. ^ Loveday, Samantha (22 May 2015). "The Big Interview: Nicolas Loufrani, CEO, Smiley".
  23. ^ Burke, Jade (7 March 2016). "SmileyWorld's CEO Nicolas Loufrani on Plagiarism, the School Market and a Push for More Toys".
  24. ^ Das, Souvik (4 August 2016). "Emoting Out Loud: The Origin of Emojis". di9it.
  25. ^ Jack Quann (17 July 2015). "A picture paints a thousand words: Today is World Emoji Day". News Talk.
  26. ^ Marc Hervez (9 May 2016). "Who invented the Smiley? Its history will surprise you…". Le Parisien.
  27. ^ "Van Es Shows Off Home Textile Range for Smiley". License Global. 11 January 2010.
  28. ^ Wiseman, Eva (2 July 2006). "A Smiley Face Goes a Long Way". The Guardian.
  29. ^ Olson, Parmy (8 May 2006). "Scott's Wal-Mart in Trademark Clash Over Smiley Face". Forbes.
  30. ^ Smith, Aaron (3 June 2016). "Walmart's Smiley is back after 10 years and a lawsuit". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2017-07-16.

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