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Samsung and RIM being sued for allegedly infringing — wait for it — an emoticon patent

Patent disputes have been flying around the tech world at such a rate lately that you could be easily forgiven for thinking everyone’s suing each other over just about every tech patent in existence. Maybe they are.

The latest dispute to hit the headlines sees Samsung and Research In Motion (RIM) being sued by Varia Holdings for allegedly infringing a patent regarding, of all things, emoticon input on mobile devices. The legal action has no doubt left the Korean and Canadian tech companies feeling rather :-( or even a bit :-S

The 16-page patent, which was filed in 2005 and granted two years later, includes the following:

“It is known that for many users, their email and instant messaging communications….often involve the use of emoticons, such as the ‘smiling face’ or the ‘sad face’. However, few email or instant messaging applications offer any assistance to a user to enter and use emoticons in their communications.”

The so-called “assistance” comes in the form of a quick-access key offering a list of emoticons to the user, and it’s the concept surrounding this function which Varia Holdings claims it owns.

An image from the patent.

Samsung phones such as the Acclaim, Nexus S, Captivate, Epic, Galaxy Nexus and Transform all infringe the patent, claims Varia Holdings, as well as RIM’s Bold, Curve, Pearl and Storm BlackBerry devices.

Though currently held by Varia Holdings, the patent was originally granted to a Seattle-based start-up by the name of Wildseed, which was subsequently bought by AOL. At some stage, a new company called Varia Mobile was spun off from AOL. The new company — believed to be linked to Varia Holdings — was set up by former Wildseed employees, so it’s assumed they retained the emoticon patent when they left AOL.

If Varia Holdings wins its case, it could result in sales of the mobile devices at the center of the dispute being suspended, as well as compensation payments being paid. Documents regarding the lawsuit were filed late last week though no judge has yet been assigned to the case.

[Source: Ars Technica / CrackBerry] [Image: Yayayoyo / Shutterstock]