Cingular has patented the emoticon. From Consumer Affairs:
Cingular Wireless has won a patent on the concept of using “emoticons” on mobile phones. The patent applies not only to graphic versions of the ubiquitous smiley/mad face but also to simple text versions. :)
Cingular says the aim of the patent is to enable the displaying of graphics on its subscribers’ handsets, the patent would also prohibit sending simple text versions via a dedicated or programmable key.
Making this patent even more obnoxious, it’s a flagrant corporate flip-off to the real inventor of the emoticon: famous American writer and synaesthete Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin and a lot of other truly astonishing works that feature not a single smiley. From his own 1973 patent application for the Nabokovmoticon, published in Strong Opinions:
I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile
some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.
Cingular’s patent is here. We think. The patent number published by Consumer Affairs doesn’t come up with anything on the US Patent Office homepage search.
Update: Looks like the actual patent application is this one, which attempts to lock down the use of a “dedicated key or shared dedicated key” for adding emoticons. You know, like the shared dedicated keys ‘colon’ and ‘closed parenthesis.’