Page last updated at 23:56 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Russian hopes to cash in on ;-)

Girl texting
Texting using emoticons has become increasingly popular

A series of punctuation marks used to convey a wink in text messages - known as an emoticon - has been trademarked in Russia, says a local businessman.

Entrepreneur Oleg Teterin said the trademark for the ;-) emoticon was granted to him by Russia's federal patent agency.

But critics doubt the trademark's legal basis as the emoticon has been in the public domain for years.

Mr Teterin said he would chase firms using the symbol without permission.

"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," Mr Teterin said in comments on the Russian TV channel, NTV.

"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual licence from us," he was quoted by the newspaper Kommersant as saying.

"It won't cost that much - tens of thousands of dollars," added the businessman, who is president of Superfone, a company that sells advertising on mobile phones.

But he said he does not plan on tracking down individual users of the emoticon.

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.

Some observers say the announcement by Mr Teterin is a gimmick.

The president of Russian social networking site, Nikita Sherman said: "You're not likely to find any retards in Russia who'll pay Superfone for the use of emoticons".

Alexander Malis, a director of the firm Vympelkom, said his company would not pay on principle, and jokingly suggested patenting brackets.

According to Russian media, Mr Teterin is not the first person to try to trademark the ;-) symbol in Russia.

Kommersant said in 2005 a St Petersburg court upheld an appeal from the German corporation Siemens, which was sued by a Russian man claiming he held the trademark.

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