Love them or hate them, emoticons are part of the common currency of online correspondence. But could you imagine trademarking one?
Russian businessman Oleg Teterin can. He says the Russian federal patent agency has granted him a trademark on ;-), the emoticon used to convey a wink, and he’s planning on charging companies that use it.
On the Russian television channel NTV he said:
"I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder."
He plans on selling licenses allowing use of the ;-), claiming "it won’t cost that much – tens of thousands of dollars." Rather graciously, he won’t go after individual users of the emoticon, but he does claim that since :-), ;), and :) all resemble the wink, he might well own those too, according to the BBC.
Teterin owns a company called Superfone, which sells ads on mobile phones. The legality of his trademark has yet to be tested, of course, but many feel that since it’s been in the public domain for years, no one can trademark it. And Teterin, in fact, isn’t the first to try. Russian new agency Kommersant said that a man sued Siemens in 2005, saying he held the trademark on the ;-). The court upheld the appeal against the decision by Siemens.