Technology is amazing. You can livestream your actions on facebook in real-time. You can automate functions on a computer using a little bit of coding. And you can convey messages that transcend language barriers. Emojis have brought a ‘smiley face’ to myself and millions of others in the world. How ironic it is that the very same emojis have brought – and will likely continue to bring – a ‘sad face’ for Sony and Marco Husges.

‘Frowning Emoji’ – Dispute over what?

The trademark dispute can be summarised as follows: Sony wants to create an Emoji Movie but has not approached Marco Husges to use the word ‘emoji’, of which Husges owns the rights to. The movie is expected to be highly lucrative considering the success of ‘Angry Birds’ in knocking off ‘Captain America: Civil War’ with a box-office opening of $39 million. In essence, Husges has something that Sony wants to, and possibly needs to, use.

After writer-director Anthony Leondis pitched the idea, Sony reportedly paid “near seven figures” to beat 2 rivals for the rights to make the movie. However, Husges has begun developing his own emoji projects for TV, movies and the web, even teaming up with Roy Lee, one of the producers of ‘The Lego Movie’.

So, Husges has the trademarks and the license to use the word ‘emoji’. Sony needs it for their proposed movie. Husges has started making his own movies and projects. Additionally, Sony’s application for dozens of trademarks connected to the film was rejected in February 2016. It is quite baffling that a spokeswoman for Sony stated they had ‘full confidence’ in their rights to make the film they intended to make.

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‘Smirking Emoji’ – Marco Husges: Devil’s Advocate

Hugses is the man that stands in the way between Sony and the potentially lucrative film they intend to make by Summer 2017. He was a former game executive from Germany who founded his own company, The Emoji Co. In 2013, Husges filed for numerous commercial trademarks of the word ‘emoji’, including certain aspects which were intended to eventually could be adapted for film and television use.

Since then, Husges has created over 3,000 emoji icons and trademarked and licensed them for an array of merchandise through The Emoji Co. Though he does not have the rights to the emoji images, he has rights to his own designs and words, such as ‘emojitown’ and ‘emojiworld’. It may be a large well-renowned company against one man. However, don’t underestimate the credentials and motivation of Husges. As he stated, Husges is willing to take on the studio.

‘Confused Emoji’ – Where to From Here?

With the right story and right filmography, the proposed Emoji Movie has the premise and potential of the financial reward that ‘Inside Out’ produced. So it seems neither party will be willing to give up easily. Though it is likely that taking legal action is not advisable to either party due to bad publicity for Sony and high costs for Hugses.

Like many other disputes, this difference of opinion regarding legal rights would be best sorted through negotiations, outside the courtroom, away from the public eye. I do not think it appropriate nor beneficial for me to speculate on potential outcomes or solutions as many complicating details may lie away from the public foresight. However, the reward is lucrative. The parties are motivated and impassioned. And both parties are dedicated. Watch this space in the future. This is going to be interesting.

‘Thinking emoji’.

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William Goh

William is a Paralegal, working in our content team, which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a passion for commercial and IP law, his research focuses on small businesses, how small businesses can navigate convoluted legal procedures and the protection of intellectual property.