Katrina Parrott is the founder of iDiversicons, an iPhone app that allowed users to copy and paste emoji with five distinct skin tones into their messages. She founded the app in 2013 after her oldest daughter lamented about the lack of diversity of emojis on her phone, stressing the fact none had a skin tone that matches her own.
“What I learned in business is if you come up with an idea that nobody else has and you’re the first on the scene, it gives you a real good opportunity to be successful,” Parrott told Washington Post.
This led her to start iDiversicons in Apple’s App Store in less than one year. She created her business at the time owners of iPhone apps were becoming millionaires. She spent some $200,000 of her savings on hiring a software engineer, an illustrator, a copyright specialist, and a videographer. According to BuzzFeed News, for 99 cents a pop, users had access to over 300 emojis which they could copy and paste into messages to their friends.
A year after she launched iDiversicons, she got invited to make a presentation at the Unicode Consortium, a Silicon Valley organization responsible for ensuring the standardization of emojis for use across devices and operating systems. After her presentation, she got the opportunity to meet with Apple executives at the company’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. Parrott left the meeting hoping for a partnership with Apple to include her diverse emojis into the iPhone’s keyboard.
However, Apple later declined her partnership, saying it will develop its own emojis based on Unicode standards, making her app unnecessary. She would spend more than five years trying to patent her creation but to no avail. The U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) kept rejecting her applications and appeals.
In 2020, she escalated the matter, suing Apple for copyright infringement. The case was thrown out in 2021 by a U.S. district judge, who said that her idea of diverse emojis was “unprotectable.” But Parrott disagrees. “It appeared to me that the judge had already made up his mind, even before we had an opportunity to share anything,” Parrott said.
Meanwhile, available data shows that there is a disproportionate number of new patents going to large corporations in the U.S. compared to businesses operated by people of color or women. In 2020, more than 50% of new U.S. patents went to the top 1% of wealthiest patentees, according to one study cited by Buzzfeed.
64-year-old Parrott said she is still waiting for recognition of her idea and the approval of her patent which has been rejected multiple times. “It’s really frustrating when you put your heart and soul and resources into an idea that has impacted so many lives,” Parrott told BuzzFeed News. “And then be rejected when you go to the place to formally get recognized for it.”
The good news for Parrott is that some U.S. lawmakers have shown interest in her patent case and have vowed to support her. BuzzFeed News reports that Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas have sent a letter to the USPTO inquiring about Parrott’s application.
“We are writing to express our concerns regarding the disproportionate challenges that small businesses, women, people of color, and other underrepresented minorities face in the patent approval process,” BuzzFeed News quoted a copy of the letter the lawmakers sent to the USPTO.