Ah, the Wild East! For a while there yesterday in Russia there threatened to break out a veritable virtual land-rush on smileys. (You know, the “emoticons” you can make using various punctuation signs. Like = D means “large laugh,” : s means “confused,” etc. A recent one I heard of is //8-=) which is “stoned Hitler.”) That’s because the Russian patent authorities had granted a patent on “;-)” (without the quotation-marks) to Superfone, which is some sort of mobile telephone-advertising firm in Russia. (Strangely, though, www.superfone.ru does not exist.) Anyone wanting to use that particular “smiley” in Russia henceforth would have to pay Superfone for a license.
Or so claimed Oleg Teterin, a manager at Superfone, according to an article on Spiegel Online. But if the patent had truly been granted in the first place, it did not last long. The sort of public uproar ensued that you would really rather expect would be forthcoming, leading the state press agency RIA Novosti (here it is in English) to make inquiries, to which a spokesman for the Patent Office responded that no, it could not have granted any such patent because “;-)” (without the quotation-marks; maybe with the quotation-marks the case is different) is clearly an example of a “generally accepted” symbol that no one can make exclusive claim to.
The Spiegel article goes on to point out that such considerations did not seem to faze the US Patent Office, which in 2001 awarded “:-(” (without the quotation-marks) as a trademark (note: different than a patent) to Despair, Inc. – the perfect motif for its extensive line of “demotivator” merchandise!