December 12, 2008

Russian Trademarks Popular Emoticon

A local businessman says that a series of punctuation marks used to convey a wink in text messages, known as an emoticon, have been trademarked in Russia.

Oleg Teterin, an entrepreneur, said the trademark for the ;-) emoticon was granted to him by Russia's federal patent agency.

However, critics doubt the trademark's legal basis because the emoticon has been in the public domain for years.

Teterin said he would chase firms using the symbol without permission.

"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," Teterin said in comments on the Russian TV channel, NTV.

"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual license from us," he was quoted by the newspaper Kommersant as saying.

"It won't cost that much - tens of thousands of dollars," added the businessman, who is president of Superfone, a company that sells advertising on mobile phones.

Other similar emoticons, such as :-) or ;) or :), resemble the one he has trademarked, meaning use of those symbols could also fall under his ownership.

Observers say the announcement made by Teterin is a gimmick.

Nikita Sherman, president of Russian social networking site odnoklassniki.ru, said, "You're not likely to find anyone in Russia who'll pay Superfone for the use of emoticons."

Director of the firm Vympelkom, Alexander Malis, said his company would not pay on principle, and jokingly suggested patenting brackets.

According to Russian media, Teterin is not the first to try to trademark the ;-) symbol in Russia.

In 2005, St. Petersburg court upheld an appeal from the German corporation Siemens, which was sued by a Russian man claiming he held the trademark.