Samsung, RIM sued over emoticon display patent :-(

By on March 20, 2012, 5:30 PM

Described as "pictorial representations of an expression or a person's mood", emoticons are widely used amongst habitual texters. Unfortunately for Samsung, Research In Motion and possibly others, Varia Holdings claims they own a patent which would prevent companies from providing a software-based button that displays "a list of emoticons for selection by the user".

Subsequently, Varia Holdings has launched a lawsuit against Samsung and RIM for infringing upon their supposed intellectual property. Here's the abstract for the patent in question, US 7,167,731.

An apparatus, such as a communication device, is provided with emoticon input logic associated with an input key to improve the ease-of-use of the apparatus for entering emoticons, e.g. into a text message, while the apparatus is operating e.g. in a text mode. Responsive to a selection of the associated input key, one or more emoticons are displayed for selection. A user may “scroll” through the one or more displayed emoticons to “select” an emoticon. In one embodiment, current focus is place on one of the displayed emoticons, and the emoticon with the current focus is automatically selected upon elapse of a predetermined amount of time after the current focus was placed.

Source: google.com/patents

Admittedly, the lawsuit is technically less about emoticons and more about the simple mechanism which displays them. I must concede though, this patent seems to be far from non-obvious and yes, the diagram to the right is actually an image from the patent filing. Whether or not it will stand up in court, of course, is another matter. 

Last year, Samsung actually sued Apple for using Emoji in both iOS and Mac OS 10.7. Emoji is a set of standardized emoticons which have appeared on many smartphones. Although SMS messages can't technically contain images, Emoji is actually a specific sequence of Unicode characters which represent colorful icons. On devices that support Emoji, users will see smiley faces, school buses and cupcakes instead of the actual jumbled strings of text.

While it may be difficult to understand how Varia Holding's patent was approved, we've certainly seen our share of questionable intellectual property before. USPTO has often been criticized for letting anyone patent just about anything, especially when it comes to the arcane realm of software engineering. As a result, there has been much discussion of patent reform or even doing away with software patents all together. 




User Comments: 15

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MrAnderson said:

This is just sad... somethings should never be allowed to be patented... I thought that was the case... bust so many things get through... and so many with almost unlimited resources are allowed to own them.

m4a4 m4a4 said:

They have been showing emoticons for years. If they think that they can just bring it up now is total BS (besides the fact that it was allowed to be patented).

Isn't there something that disallows them to sue if a certain time period elapses?

Xclusiveitalian Xclusiveitalian said:

Patents serve a good purpose but I feel in today's age their destroying innovation and holding us back to much.

Guest said:

They should look up x-faces... it has been around 1992 and was an offshoot of vismon which is from 1980's. Here is one of the x-faces:

:-| mannoury at telekabel.nl X-Face: :-|

there are many that are much more complex

Guest said:

Too bad the USPTO does not know how to use Google. They could find prior art pretty easily.

Guest said:

U can't take something in existance & patent it for 1 type of application (mobile device!

The "ability" to have a drop down graphical/emotical window dates back to BBS's in the early 90's. I am going to start patenting wheels & sinks for my new computer technology... so when eventually some uses them I can sue?

psycros psycros said:

Guest said:

They should look up x-faces... it has been around 1992 and was an offshoot of vismon which is from 1980's. Here is one of the x-faces:

:-| mannoury at telekabel.nl X-Face: :-|

there are many that are much more complex

What we're talking about here is a button that brings up a menu of emoticons. ICQ had this in '97, as did at least one online forum package (VBulletin, maybe). So if the patent doesn't at <b>least</b> predate that, the only ones getting rich will be the lawyers these ****** hired.

Guest said:

Glad there is no patent for smiling in front of computers .. I should pay tons of money right now

Guest said:

This is karma. Samsung suing apple for just about everything. I kind of questioned samsung suing apple. How can a supplier sue one of their customers after using their innovations? Like the pop up keyboard on all android devices. That was apple iPhone implement. Also the finger gesture to flip pages. Just about every phone copy that. So it is cool to see Samsung and rim bite it. What is sad that some people think its sad when a bully gets it. This is how apple was destroyed the first time around. Everyone was allowed to copy them and saturate the market where apple lost since their product always held quality to their own detriment. Same thing was done to america and the whole world by China. All these cheap products saturate the markets where now all the economies around the world are threatened and no one realizes that they killed their own jobs by purchasing cheap **** instead of the genuine item. So doing away with patents would be committing intellectual suicide. I think they need to be strictly enforced till companies realize to respect others invention and pay for their use. Stop stealing and come across to others like a gypsy. Samsung is like gypsy steal and not pay for stuff.

Guest said:

I've got to say patents like these are total bullshit, Anybody could easily make a text editor and do this with an html app in 20 minutes or less.

Guest said:

You're right, the patent situation has gotten out of hand. But not just recently and not just because of the Internet. Decades ago I reviewed a patent that had been issued in the US for some telecommunications idea - it included a claim of "applying dial tone". The international patent process did it right by disallowing all the claims except one as "prior art". Just think how much this one patent and its multiple, bogus claims could have provided US lawyers with work for many years.

Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

Well, lets hope this is the straw that breaks the IP camels back.. I'm not sure it can get any more inane then this.

Guest said:

this show how pathetic countries accpet pathetic patents from pathetic companies.... its bizarre and hilarious....thats why noone believe the justice system anymore.

Guest said:

It's always been a mystery to me how anyone can claim a software patent. All software comes with a disclaimer that basically says (in plain-english) "we don't claim this software does anything, or is of any use to anyone, nor do we admit liability if it doesn't do what you think it should. If you find it does, well and good, but if it doesn't, don't come crying to us", i.e. you are paying for a couple of CDs with no promises. Given there's nothing useful on there by company admission, how can someone else violate your intellectual rights?

TJGeezer said:

I have a patent on complaining about U.S. patent law. Pay up, people. Piracy is evil.

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