Cingular Wireless has won a patent on the concept of using "emoticons" on mobile phones. The patent applies not only to graphic versions of the ubiquitous smiley/mad face but also to simple text versions. :)

Cingular says the aim of the patent is to enable the displaying of graphics on its subscribers' handsets, the patent would also prohibit sending simple text versions via a dedicated or programmable key.

The system may also support the import of emoticons and custom emoticons to one or more applications running on the mobile device, Cellular News reported. For example, in some embodiments, users may visit an out-of-band service (e.g., web page) to compose or upload custom emoticons that would then become available on the wireless device's palette.

The patent may be seen as bad news by devotees of the inane faces. On the other hand, if it restricts the spread of the moon-shaped faces, it's likely to be wildly popular in some quarters.

Don't believe it? :| Check it out. The patent number is US2006015812.