Letters Cingular's attempt to patent emoticons isn't as bad as it sounds, expert readers. European patent attorney John Cooper writes:
The exclusive rights that a patent application seeks to secure are defined by the "Claims" of the application. These are usually amended during examination of the application so as that the terms of the claims in the finally granted patent are "novel" and "non-obvious" (or "inventive") over the prior art (i.e. whatever relevant information was in the public domain before the application was filed).
In this case the claims are all directed to the use of a dedicated key on, e.g., a mobile phone, to access a selection of predefined emoticons.
I can't say offhand whether that is novel or inventive, but it's a far cry from patenting the use of emoticons per se.
There are enough genuine software patent horror stories around without inventing spurious ones.
Adds reader Anne:
The patent application is over a one-key way of accessing emoticons ... not requesting a patent over emoticons themselves! I appreciate that doesn't make quite such good copy, though :)
We consider ourselves corrected.
But as Deborah Swinney points out, this is hardly grounds for claming an invention.
This is rather like claiming a patent for putting an 'A' on a keyboard. The letter was there, the device needed it. Where's the invention?
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
He asks if this was on predecessors of the phone, and we believe the answer's yes.