Apple defeats copyright lawsuit over racially diverse emoji

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  • Judge says the "idea" of diverse emoji can't be copyrighted
  • Designs not similar enough for copyright infringement

(Reuters) - Apple Inc convinced a California federal judge on Wednesday to throw out a lawsuit accusing the tech giant of ripping off another company's multiracial emoji and violating its intellectual property rights.

Cub Club Investment LLC didn't show that Apple copied anything that was eligible for copyright protection, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said.

Chhabria gave Cub Club a chance to amend its lawsuit but said he was "skeptical" it could succeed based on several differences between its emoji design and Apple's.

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Texas-based Cub Club's 2020 lawsuit said that its founder Katrina Parrott created and launched the "iDiversicons" app in 2013, calling it the world's first emoji with diverse skin tones.

Cub Club said Parrott discussed a potential partnership with Apple representatives in 2014, and that Apple created its own set of multiracial emoji after declining to work with her. It said Apple's emoji infringed its copyrights and trademark rights, arguing they copied iDiversicons' five skin tones and other features.

Chhabria said in a Wednesday order that even if the complaint was true, Apple at most copied Cub Club's unprotectable "idea" of diverse emoji.

"There aren't many ways that someone could implement this idea," Chhabria said. "After all, there are only so many ways to draw a thumbs up."

Cub Club only owns weak copyrights in the unique expressive aspects of its designs, and Apple's emojis weren't similar enough to infringe them, Chhabria said, citing differences in their coloring, shapes, and other features.

Chhabria also found that Cub Club didn't have protectable trademark rights for its emoji.

Apple and attorneys for both companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The case is Cub Club Investment LLC v. Apple Inc, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:21-cv-06948.

For Cub Club: Todd Patterson of Patterson + Sheridan

For Apple: Andrew Gass of Latham & Watkins

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com