Emoticons? Patented! :(

from the :( dept

Exactly five years ago, Despair Inc. (makers of the lovely calendars that have hung in my office every year since 1999) was able to trademark πŸ™ and immediately announced (jokingly) that they were going to sue just about everyone who used it. Amusingly, not everyone got the joke leading to outrage directed at the company. Well, in the latest case of intellectual property protection around the ever popular :), Cellular News is claiming in a headline that Cingular Patents the Emoticon πŸ™. So, that would imply that πŸ™ is now both trademarked and patented. It’s text, so, hell, maybe someone should try to copyright it also. Looking at the details of the story suggest that it’s not quite as bad as the headline suggests — but still amazingly ridiculous. The article doesn’t link to the patent, but a quick search turns up a newly issued patent on a Method for sending multi-media messages using emoticons, assigned to AT&T (not Cingular). I should mention, by the way, that there are a stunning number of patents involving emoticons — and you have to believe that, unlike in the Despair case, none of these patent holders filed these jokingly. What this particular patent covers is the ability to use animated emoticons in mobile messaging, rather than just the text variety. So, you’re fine if you still use your standard πŸ™‚ as you text your friends. However, even so, how in the world could this possibly deserve patent protection? Animated smileys are common just about everywhere, and not because of some brilliant “invention” that deserves protection, but because it’s an obvious idea. Why should anyone deserve to get a patent on this same idea, just because it’s on a mobile phone instead of a computer? What sort of patent examiner allows patents like this to be approved… and how does this possibly encourage innovation? Update: The folks from Cellular News have stopped by to point out that the actual patent is a different one from the one we’re discussing. It is from Cingular and is a bit different. However, the good news is that it’s just a patent application, as opposed to a full patent. The patent in this case covers adding a button to the screen of a mobile phone to let you choose which emoticon you’d like. Again, not as broad as completely patenting emoticons, but still pretty ridiculous. Hopefully the patent examiners realize this in time. The original patent we discussed, however, still never should have been granted.

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Comments on “Emoticons? Patented! :(”

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ntlgnce (profile) says:


It would seem that something has to be done about the patents and what they mean to the world. Meaning that they need to come up with some new rule, that only allows “real patents” such as the flip in the flip phone. Meaning that ways of sending text useing someone elses computer script should not be able to be pateneted.. I think something like this should be and needs to be implimented.

Mike Brown (user link) says:

Re: Re: ^,^ Konichiwa Lawyer San n_n`

>we have put the patent number in question onto the
> news article.It is actually, USwe have put the
> patent number in question onto the news article.
> It is actually, US2006015812

And that isn’t a patent – it is merely a published patent application. All of the outrage about how could any examiner allow such a patent is a bit premature – all it is, is an attempt to patent something. The application has not even been seen by an examiner yet.

rbilotta says:

Re: Re: Re: ^,^ Konichiwa Lawyer San n_n`

Thanks for somebody for pointing this fact out. This is NOT a patent. Just a patent APPLICATION. It would have a different number if it was an issued patent. This just means that the company is trying to get this patented and all they have done is filled out an application that has to be pubiclly disclosed. So maybe whoever examines this patent will see this shouldn’t be allowed. Strangely though, I have not been able to pull up the application from the USPTO site using this number. It says no patent under this number exists.

Ben McNelly (user link) says:

the oblivious obvious...

This is getting sooo tiresome, but is this for protection or greed? I mean, if “A” has the patent for little smileys it might discourage “B” to use them, but if they fo, are they realy going to make them stop because its patented?? Or are they just tired of running into lame brains that pattent obvious, allready in implimentation ideas, so they are secureing it?? (I am betting in the former)

– the way I see it, anything like smileys should fall under an open source type area. Freely, used and modified. Worse case senario, I will create my own versions of smileys… (-:

Zantetsuken (the same on /.) says:

Just like "your fired" never shoulda been patented

Just like the “your fired” crap from “the apprentice” (they’re all crappy reality shows as far as I’m concerned) never shoulda been patented – and no, Donald Trump, I will NOT pay you for using it in this post…

My point is, if its already used by more than half of a population (the internet namely, or employers firing their employees) as a phrase or in the case of the article, emoticons, theres no way in hell it should have ever been allowed. People were using emoticons LONG before crappy Cingular came along, just like employers have been saying “your fired” way before Donald Trump decided he didnt have enough money from his massive hotel empire and decided he needed some pocket change from a crappy tv show. How the hell can you possibly claim its an original invention worthy of a patent when its not original and it was being used before your company was even founded???

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

“Im working on a patent for the ability to intake oxygen into a conversion system that turns the oxygen into carbon dioxide. Im going to call it “breathing”, and demand that everyone pay me .25 cents every time they use my innovative invention!”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the checks to roll in…

Liam says:

Patents only destory inovation.

As the majority of us know, recently there have been some stupid patents, ad a lot of the patent holders are argueing that by gaining a patent on their product, they can keep inovation going.

Tell me how would this work with no one to compete against, they can then sit back and watch the money role in as no one would be alowed to create a product like theirs.

It’s competition thats creates inovatio, not patent πŸ™ (ooh noeezz, i’mma gonna be sueedz!!1 I used da sad face smileyy)

Tyshaun says:

Why fight them, join them...

I’m going to just go ahead an patent the entire ASCII character set. That way every time someone hits a keyboard key cha ching!. Maybe I’ll force all the OS manufacturers to automatically tally and send me periodic reports on the number of ASCII keys used, so I can do like a monthly billing thing.

How about this, I’ll have a “premium” service for using the ASCII characters in sequence (words) or if to use the extended character set.

Fed Up says:


Patents are for useful inventions that disables others from using YOUR IDEA/INVENTION and profiting from it. There is now way in hell that anything written (beside perhaps a ORIGINAL business name) with letters, numbers or anyother every day characters should be patent. Peopl in todays society are just to fricken stupid, same as for suing, “I don’t like the tone you used with me, I’m suing you for a high therapist bill (because I’m a little panzy dancin in my mothers underwear).” In the states we sue more than anyone else, and for stupid non related reason that should be thrown out of court, same with patents. This law and government have their thumbs stuck way to high up there put to realize common sense and think straight… at least thats the only conclusion I can come up with the stupid affects of today.

ZachOfAllTrades says:

go read the patent

This is a hardware patent, not a patent on text-based emoticons. The patent is NOT trying to lay claim emoticons themselvs, and it actually describes the use of them as a “common” thing developed in the “internet culture”. The patent is on a special key on what appears to be a keyboard for a mobile device. This special key would cause a single-character icon to be displayed (essentially a ‘symbols’ font), which the user could then scroll through various available icons using the directional input keys. The patent describes the network support required for making these special icon characters availble for display (as a single character on the LCD display, not the sequence of characters that we all know and love).

rbilotta says:

Re: go read the patent

The actually number of applicaton is US20060015812. There was a zero missing in some postings but if you are interested you can read on the USPTO. The abstract by the way says:

A method and system for generating a displayable icon or emoticon form that indicates the mood or emotion of a user of the mobile station. A user of a device, such as a mobile phone, is provided with a dedicated key or shared dedicated key option that the user may select to insert an emoticon onto a display or other medium. The selection of the key or shared dedicated key may result in the insertion of the emoticon, or may also result in the display of a collection of emoticons that the user may then select from using, for example, a key mapping or navigation technique.

balamm (user link) says:

Re: lets patent language. in fact, lets just paten

As a matter of fact, smileys (emoticons) are NOT public domain.
No recently created artwork is public domain.
Copyright is automatically granted to the creator of any artistic work for a period of no less than 70 years. Registration is not required although it is encouraged. Smileys are no exception.
You may think it’s very easy and trivial to create an animated emoticon but I only know of a handful of people who really have the required talent. Unfortunately, there are many more people who think like you do and much of our time is spent fighting these leeches who toss up a website full of our content and proclaim it’s all free for the grabbing.
Ever tried to enforce a DMCA action on some german kid with a copy of httrack, a bad attitude, and an uncaring webhost? Copyrights are absolutely neccesary and so is enforcement of them.
So you don’t like smileys, don’t look at them!
But if you’re going to jump into a discussion about them, at least get a grip on some of the facts first.
No one I know want’s to patent anything. They just want a little respect for their time and effort. I don’t think that’s too much to ask given that an average work day might be 16 hours or more with an expected return of only a few cents from a google ad.
I do agree with some of you about the “emoticons” shown at the bottom of yahoo mails and stuff.
We have nothing to do with that type of emoticon or promotion. Those are generally employed by LLC’s and other scam sites to lure users into mailing lists.
We simply attempt to provide a little extra amusement for users of forums. I guarantee you there is very little profit in this. The only one who ever really profits from our work is google πŸ˜‰

The Dude says:

:: get real here guys!

This is obviously a publicity stunt – I mean – this surely does not have a snowballs chance in hell of actally being enforced. I mean come on now – http://www.despair.com/demotivators/frownonthis.html – it’s on the companies website for crying out loud. Using Carnivore? These guys cannot be serious and if they are, then surely they will want to consider all those type foundries out there who make letter types and consider paying each and every one of them a license fee for using their designs, for their own personal gain or potentially doing so, as punctuation is intended … or whatever legalese can be crafted to slap Despair back.

Vote with your hard cash; don’t support Despair – why should you then? In fact any company you disagree with – vote for their competition – and actively support them. People don’t realise how powerful they really are – companies need you more than what they need you. Kick their asses when they need a kicking!


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