Patents are aimed to protect innovators and make sure they get their due. When you invent something, a non-obvious something, you patent it and these wonderful laws will make sure that, for a limited time at least, you alone reap the benefits of your genius. After all, it was your idea. It’s all great in theory, but patent trolls have been turning it on its head for a while, and the ever increasing amount of things that can be patented isn’t helping. Someone patented menus and buttons that assist users in writing emoticons, for instance, and RIM and Samsung are being sued over it.
The patent, held by likely troll Varia Holdings Inc., specifies:
A mobile communication apparatus comprising: a display; a first input key; and operating logic associated with the first input key to display on said display a list of emoticons for selection by a user, responsive to a selection of said first input key, when the apparatus is operating in text mode.
Or in other words, it’s a key that brings up a menu of emoticons. The patent goes on to include features like having the menu items correspond to number keys. This apparently constitutes an “invention” and is apparently “non-obvious.” Needless to say, many opinions differ.
Nevertheless, Samsung and RIM are now in the process of being sued for using such a system without holding the patent. The patent was not originally filed by Varia Holdings Inc. but rather by Wildseed, a Seattle based start-up. The patent was filled in 2005 and granted in 2007, after which Wildseed was acquired by AOL. After that, Varia Mobile spun off from AOL presumably taking the patent with it, and while Varia Mobile may not necessarily be involved with Varia Holdings Inc, it seems pretty safe to assume. It’s also worth noting that, according to Ars Technica, Varia Mobile has job postings for engineer positions, which seems very untroll-like.
This case, among others, seems to illustrate the importance of reevaluating what qualifies as an invention, especially in a software context. It seems absurd to consider emoticon selection menus a non-obvious solution that deserves the protection of a patent. All in all, however, it’s a non-issue; you shouldn’t be using emoticons in your texts anyway. What are you, 12?
My apologies to any of our 12-year-old readers. Please leave some angry-lookin’ smilies in the comments.
(via Ars Technica)
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