MOSCOW – How much would you pay for a ;-)?
A Russian businessman has trademarked the emoticon — or combination of punctuation marks — used to convey a wink in text messages and e-mail.
Oleg Teterin, president of the mobile ad company Superfone, said Thursday he doesn't plan on tracking down individual users following the decision by the federal patent agency.
"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," he said in comments to NTV.
Companies will be sent legal warnings if they use the symbol without his permission, he said.
"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual license from us," he was quoted by Kommersant as saying. "It won't cost that much — tens of thousands of dollars."
He also said since other similar emoticons — :-) or ;) or :) — resemble the one he has trademarked, use of those symbols could also fall under his ownership.
Other Russian Internet entrepreneurs reacted to the effort predictably —
"Imagine the next wise-guy who trademarks the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet and then says anyone who uses the Russian alphabet has to send him money. It's absurd," Alexander Manis, the director of a broadband internet and mobile company, told NTV.
Maksim Mashkov, owner of an Internet cafe and bookstore, said he doubted the trademark's legal basis since the symbol has existed in the public domain for years.
Indeed, Russia media said Teterin wasn't the first to try to trademark the symbol in Russia. Kommersant said a St. Petersburg court in 2005 agreed with an appeal from the German corporation Siemens, which was sued by a Russian man claiming he held the trademark.
Scott Fahlman, a professor at the Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, claims that he was the first to use three keystrokes — a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis — as a horizontal "smiley face" in a computer message 25 years ago.