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• The Los Angeles Times reports that a British Columbia labor board has denied a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) bid to organize 10 employees in a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express department, saying that the department could not be unionized separately from the rest of the store.

According to the LAT, “This is the latest failure for the union in its bid to represent Canadians who work for the U.S. retailer. The company has a single unionized store, in Quebec. Canadian workers have voted six times against joining the union in the last three years.”

Wal-Mart has demonstrated a willingness to play hardball with Canadian employees flirting with union membership. Last year, the company closed a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, rather than deal with workers who had voted to join the UFCW.

• The New York Times this morning reports on the continuing legal battle between Wal-Mart and the French family that says it owns rights to the yellow “smiley face” that Wal-Mart has long used as its symbol.

Franklin Loufrani says he first trademarked the “smiley face” back in 1971, though the Times notes that this may not be enough – “unlike most countries in Europe and Asia…the United States operates under a system in which being the first to register a trademark bears less weight than being the first to exploit a symbol commercially.”

Wal-Mart reportedly started using the symbol in 1996.

Loufrani says that if he wins the case, he will not license the “smiley face” back to Wal-Mart, saying that he prefers to go more upscale.

While the US Patent and Trademark Office is expected to rule on the case later this summer, it remains possible that the decision could be moot. Wal-Mart is engaged in a broad search for new advertising agencies to represent its various interests, and it is conceivable – though not likely- that a new campaign could render the “smiley face” obsolete.
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