We've seen some odd legal decisions over the years, but few as peculiar as the news that emerged from Russia today that an advertising company has trademarked the well-known winking emoticon.

Superfone and its president Oleg Teterin claim they own the rights to reproduce ;-) and similar derivatives like :-) and :) in spite of their being in public use for at least 15 years.

Early soundings suggest that (^-^) and ;(>_<); are still safe, however.

Individuals in the clear

Magnanimously, Teterin won't be going after individuals who pepper their emails with the smiley faces. Instead, he says he hopes to make money from companies that infringe his 'trademark'.

The money-grabbing boss explained: "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."

Cough up

Should he find any transgressors, they'll still be able to use the winker – after paying a fee of "tens of thousands of dollars", that is.

We wonder if he'll settle for a drawing of a spider instead?