January 30, 2006 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Cingular applies for patents for emoticons. The cell phone company this week filed a 35-claim application with the U.S. Patent Office for the use of "smilies" in their devices, apparently for some form of key that automatically enters the emoticon. Some experts say this isn't as serious/sincere as it sounds, but you can read the patent application yourself. (via TPM)
posted by XQUZYPHYR (17 comments total)
They're not patenting emoticons, they're trying to patent a dedicated button on a cell phone that produces smileys when pressed, without all that tedious mucking about with punctuation. Silly, petty and stupid? Definitely. Fair game for a patent? Probably.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:07 AM on January 30, 2006

They aren't trying to patent emoticons, just a device which will generate them with a single keystroke. What's the big deal?

by the way the application was filed 1 1/2 years ago, not this week
posted by caddis at 7:09 AM on January 30, 2006

Preview? Who uses that anymore now that we have Live Preview?
posted by caddis at 7:10 AM on January 30, 2006

at least we're not on slashdot right now. all the "i patented a. . . ." jokes are super-hilarious there.
posted by wakko at 7:15 AM on January 30, 2006

Thic ic a reasonable ctrategy for company that doecn't know how cpell.
posted by srboisvert at 7:15 AM on January 30, 2006

I wouldn't say it's fair game at all. The patent office is a sham. Companies don't look to acquire broadly defined patents "for fun", so how is this "not as serious as it sounds"? The only reason they'd do this is the desire to stifle the market and/or make outlandish retroactive claims against others providers. From the "some experts say" link:

Indeed, and Cingular's patent application is much broader than a simple emoticon key. The application makes claims for providing the mobile user with a palatte of emoticons from which to choose. Chris O'Shea adds that such smiley helpers already exist, such as on his Sony Ericsson P910i:

While composing a text message, I have a bar of icons displayed, one of which is a smiley and clicking on it presents a range of different emoticons to be inserted in my text message. That seems to match one or more of their claims

I have a similar feature on my phone. You could be damn sure if Cingular was granted this patent outright they'd have that option removed ASAP, requiring other carriers to modify firmware and jump through all sorts of pointless hoops. All in the name of protecting their intellectual property/product integrity. Right.
posted by prostyle at 7:18 AM on January 30, 2006

What prostyle said. The first thing I thought when I read that part was "yeah, hasn't this been a feature on instant messenger programs for about three years now?"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:22 AM on January 30, 2006

What is a "shared dedicated button"? I wonder if I could sell shared dedicated servers.
posted by fleacircus at 7:43 AM on January 30, 2006

I just noticed your post title XQUZYPHYR. That was good, but of course I am easily amused.
posted by caddis at 7:56 AM on January 30, 2006

If anyone is really incensed by this application and they think that they have relevant prior art they can submit it to the PTO using this procedure. A cheaper and easier alternative is to send it to the attorney at the correspondence address, including the application number etc., and suggest that this art be filed with the PTO. If it is truly relevant and they fail to submit it then the patent could be held unenforceable for inequitable conduct even if it would not make the claims unpatentable. Cingular is not asserting that they have invented emoticons themselves and they have likely already submitted art relating to emoticons, so a bunch of stuff showing the mere existence of emoticons won't cut it. However, the smiley keys on phones and in IM programs, if real, would be highly relevant. Be specific in the identification, with paper copies of the disclosure and also be specific with proof that it is indeed prior, preferably more than one year prior to the filing of the application.
posted by caddis at 8:09 AM on January 30, 2006

The competitors who infringe on the patent are the ones with the motive to find prior art.
posted by smackfu at 8:14 AM on January 30, 2006

The PTO examiners have lots of patents to check for prior art, but in software arts things are moving so fast that the patent prior art is not adequate. That leaves product circulars, magazines etc. They have databases like Lexis, but it isn't as well organized as the patent prior art. So, if you have something you can help them.
posted by caddis at 8:25 AM on January 30, 2006

"at least we're not on slashdot right now. all the "i patented a. . . ." jokes are super-hilarious there."

You forgot to mention the multiple comments on "corporate greed." But they also abbreviate Microsoft as M$, which is still so unbelievably clever.

The patent office does need reform, but this does not appear to be one of the best examples showing why.
posted by AspectRatio at 8:28 AM on January 30, 2006

The patent office is criminally negligent.

Um before you go looking for torches and some rope, maybe you might stop to that this is a PENDING APPLICATION for patent. It has not been granted by the USPTO, it has simply been published by the USPTO 18 months after it was filed by Cingular. As are all applications for patent.

It will be another 6 months before it lands on an Examiner's desk and then probably another 9-12 months before it is granted, or finally rejected.

If the invention is as trivial and obvious as some believe, and there is ample prior art as some suggest, and if the patent office does its job, the application will be rejected. Of course remarkable mistakes are made - the USPTO is after all a government agency - but most of the time they do get it right.

If you want to poke fun and hurl abuse at this patent application at this stage, Cingular is the only proper target.

If you want to ignorantly criticize the USPTO, Slashdot is over here.
posted by three blind mice at 8:30 AM on January 30, 2006

you might stop to *missing verb* that this...

you might stop to observe that this....
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on January 30, 2006

Lots of absurd patents get approved and granted. Not so many continue on to successfully extract money from other companies. Someone who is sued can challenge the validity. If it is truly absurd then it won't survive the challenge. You can do it in court which is expensive but gives you the most control or in the PTO which is cheap but affords you much less control over the process. In any event, I doubt too many absurd patents make anyone very much money. You may be able to find a few exceptions, but in general if a lot of good prior art which would anticipate or make obvious the claims in the patent exists, the accused infringer will find it. If they don't then I submit such a patent is not absurd.
posted by caddis at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2006

posted by iamck at 2:43 PM on January 30, 2006

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