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A Russian patent agency has granted a trademark to the ;-) emoticon to Oleg Teterin, owner of Superfone, a company that sells advertisements for mobile phones. The entrepreneur plans to go after corporations who use the symbol without his permission, though points out that this only applies to those who try to profit–so apparently he won’t be scouring the Internet for anyone winking in a blog or email. And for those who do want to use the emoticon commercially, Teterin will sell them an annual license. He also points out that similar marks–such as ;) or :-)–may also fall under his ownership.
Of course, Russian business owners are calling the move a gimmick, saying that the symbol is actually in the public domain. After all, emoticons as we know them have been around since at least as early as 1982. However, there is precedent for this sort of thing, even in the US; in 1998, Despair, Inc. was awarded a trademark in :-( for use in “greeting cards, posters and art prints.” Also, a Finnish law student trademarked a number of emoticons (including =) which is more popular in Finland since the two keys are next to each other on the keyboard) in 2006.
Still, it’s unclear as to whether Teterin will have any success enforcing his trademark. The president of a Russian social networking site stated, “You’re not likely to find any retards in Russia who’ll pay Superfone for the use of emoticons.” Perhaps a bit harsh, but she may have a point. Emoticons have become so ubiquitous that it seems unlikely that they aren’t in the public domain. It’s like trying to trademark the use of ?! to indicate alarm.
I just hope that no one tries to trademark the emoticon :-o since that’s the best way to express how I feel about this entire situation.
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