:-( news for emoticons and emoticon lovers

Single command should remain unpatented and freely available to everyone.

Hey how r u? I miss u ;-). U 2. Emoticons. Everyone who uses AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger or any online instant communication program knows what they are and probably uses them once in a while. Now, anyone who ever wanted to make a simple old-fashioned colon-dash-right parenthesis smiley might no longer be able to. The programs now take typed “commands” such as these, and automatically turn them into bright yellow shining grins, whether the user likes it or not.

Last week, Cingular applied for a United States patent on its so-called “invention” of using a single key command that would send text-message users to a wide selection of the changing faces. While many are getting the false impression that the company is trying to patent the emoticons themselves, this isn’t their intent. This single key command is different from drop-down emoticon menus found on many online communications systems, most often e-mail and instant messaging. This odd request puts a new light on the inner workings of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Patents are intended to be a right of property. The inventor of an item or idea applies for a patent, and if granted, it legally precludes others from selling the idea for 20 years. The patent holder has to pay the Patent and Trademark Office maintenance fees in order to keep the patent. The “inventions” that qualify for patents seem to become vaguer every year, undermining the entire purpose of the Patent Office.

So why would Cingular want to patent the idea of sending its users by command to an array of emoticons if they have to pay money to do so? Chances are they will start charging for the use of them, probably indirectly. Maybe they think business will pick up because of the huge draw of one-key emoticons and that this will blow away the competing mobile phone companies. 😛

Applying for a patent of something that is so much of what we call “public information” as emoticons is a sad foray into greed and another example of corporations stealing what was once free and open to everyone just to suck another few dollars out of citizens. That’s enough to make us all a bit }:o( .