Scent as a Trademark: A Deep Dive into the Legal Framework


In the complex world of modern business, trademarks play a crucial role as special symbols that help consumers identify and tell apart varieties of products and services. Previously, trademarks were limited to visual things like logos and brand names. However, now trademarks also include non-traditional things like smells, sounds, and colors, giving businesses more options to create unique brand identities. In the domain of branding and intellectual property, the notion of ‘smell as a form of trademark’ has received prominence. This unconventional approach becomes particularly pertinent in today’s competitive milieu as businesses explore innovative methods to establish unique brand identities that resonate with consumers on a sensory level. Iconic fragrances like Chanel No. 5, the unmistakable scent of McDonald’s, and the unique olfactory experiences associated with retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch exemplify the potency of scent trademarks in shaping consumer choices, setting products apart, fortifying brand identity, and heightening competitiveness in the market.

Regulatory Framework

The concept of utilizing distinctive fragrances as trademarks, known as “Smell as a Trademark,” has recently become a focal point of interest. This innovative approach, where specific scents distinguish products or services, faces varying legal frameworks across jurisdictions, giving birth to both opportunities and challenges. In accordance with Section 2(zb) of the Indian Trademarks Act, 1999, a trademark is described as a mark that can be visually represented, serving to distinguish the goods or services of one entity from others. This definition, in harmony with Article 15 of the TRIPS Agreement, notably doesn’t expressly exclude non-traditional marks such as smell, flavor, or sounds. Within the United States, the regulation of smell trademarks is predominantly governed by the Lanham Act. Although scents are implicitly included, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) imposes rigorous procedures for the registration of scent trademarks. Applicants are obligated to demonstrate the scent’s function as a source identifier, exhibit distinctiveness, and provide a clear visual representation, as evidenced in the Myles Limited case [R 711/1999-3]. In the European Union, the European Court of Justice has introduced the ‘Sieckmann seven-fold Test’ to establish guidelines for visually representing smells in trademarks. This comprehensive test ensures that graphical representations of smell trademarks meet criteria such as clarity, accuracy, self-containment, intelligibility, accessibility, durability, and objectivity for legitimate validation.


Graphical Representation Challenge · Olfactory trademarks in Indian trademark law face a significant challenge in graphical representation. · Unlike colors or sounds, scents lack a universally accepted classification system. · The Official Manual, 2017 of Trade Marks in India explicitly states that odors are not recognized due to their inability to meet graphical representation criteria. Distinctiveness Determination Hurdle · Another obstacle in India involves determining the distinctiveness of a scent. · Establishing the originality of fragrances, especially in perfumes, is intricate due to the inherent association with the represented products. · The functionality doctrine, limiting protection for features serving practical purposes, complicates matters by making it challenging to prove a specific smell is not a functional element. Subjectivity & Legal Uncertainty · The subjectivity of human olfaction introduces uncertainty regarding the legality of scent as a trademark. · Precise descriptions become imperative to ensure the recorded odor is distinct and not naturally occurring. · This prevents potential confusion with other scents, adding an additional layer of complexity.


In the realm of intellectual property, unconventional marks like smell trademarks coexist, yet ensuring effective brand protection might need the incorporation of additional word or figurative marks. The prevailing global uncertainty regarding the status of smell marks focuses the imperative need for more transparent requirements pertaining to both their distinctiveness and graphical representation. Achieving a harmonized approach to how smell marks are represented across various legal systems becomes important for fostering global innovation and facilitating technology transfer. The current era of globalization and technology necessitates the implementation of systematic registration rules characterized by flexible interpretations and lenient requirements. The journey to legalize ‘smell’ marks as trademarks faces hurdles, particularly in India, where issues related to graphical representation impede their registration within the confines of existing trademark laws. Addressing this challenge requires bridging gaps and establishing unified global approaches. Recognizing smell as a trademark pioneers intellectual property law, reflecting commerce evolution in a sensory-driven world. Despite legal complexities, its potential for consumer engagement and brand distinctiveness warrants modifying legal systems for innovation and enhanced consumer experiences, benefiting businesses and consumers. If you are looking for any help regarding trademark services to maximize the potential of your business, Aumirah’s trademark experts can assist you 24*7. You may reach us at or our website at for valuable insights and assistance.
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