A Russian businessman named Oleg Teterin, the owner of a mobile advertising firm called Superfon, has trademarked the iconic winking smiley – ;-) – in Russia. Teterin says that one year commercial licenses for the emoticon will cost “tens of thousands of dollars.” Charitably, regular users of the Internet can still use the smiley for free, according to Teterin.
“The decision from Rospatent means that no commercial organization in Russia can use this symbol in their advertising. It does not touch upon natural persons, who use smileys on the Internet,” Teterin said.
Because other emoticons, such as :), :-), and ;) are so similar to Teterin’s trademark, they also can’t be used legally in Russia. Legal experts don’t think the Russian Patent Agency’s trademark grant will ultimately hold up, however. “This set of computer keyboard characters is universally recognized. Therefore, its registration as a trademark may contradict the public interests,” legal expert Viktor Naumov told the Pravda newspaper.
In 2001, Despair, Inc., the makers of parody inspiration products, trademarked the frown smiley – :-( – in the United States as a joke, or perhaps as a way to point out flaws in the US patent and trademark system. A few press outlets back then picked up the story and generated some good press coverage for Despair.
It is a lot harder to tell if Teterin is joking, though. Russian daily Kommersant reports that this isn’t the first time that someone in Russia has tried to trademark that smiley emoticon.
And we were worried about Google patenting Gears.