So, do you trademark or copyright these symbols?
Actually, you can do both. Let's look at examples of each.
Now there are a countless number of emoticons/face images out there but if you do happen to create a new one look into filing for a copyright. Yahoo ® did & you can see that record here.
If you are using emoticons/face images in connection with products and/or services, consider filing for a trademark. Of course, comprehensive research is needed first to ensure that no other party has attempted the same. The USPTO even has a new design code designation just for emoticons.
Plenty of people have already capitalized on this new 'language' in terms of trademarks. Despair Inc has done so for their line of greeting cards, posters & art prints. Check out their products here. To see their USPTO filing, go to the USPTO Status Page and enter in the Serial Number 75502288.
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What good is a logo anyhow?
You Sure It's a Copyright You Need?