Black Mom Faces Continuous Rejection in Attempts to Patent Skin Tone Emojis

Katrina Parrott invented the idea of emojis with diverse skin tones long before smartphone users had access to them on their screens. But she is still awaiting recognition and a patent for her innovation.

According to BuzzFeed, Parrott’s situation has moved lawmakers to question the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office regarding the treatment of people of color, women, and other underrepresented creators. Following Parrott’s approach for help, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas sent a letter to the office addressing the issue and demanding answers.

“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,” the letter wrote, with a demand for a response by Feb. 28.

“When giant tech companies like Apple are granted patent after patent by the USPTO, women and entrepreneurs of color face steep hurdles in getting credit for their ideas — and too often see their patents rejected,” Warren said in a statement.

“The USPTO needs to do a full accounting of how and why entrepreneurs of color disproportionately have their patents rejected and level the playing field for small business owners taking on Big Tech,” she added.

“The USPTO has undertaken extensive and concerted efforts during the Biden Administration to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the US patent system, as well as to identify any reasons those who apply for patents are not awarded them,” the office told BuzzFeed.

Parrott, 64, pursued her idea in 2013 after her daughter observed there were no emojis that reflected her skin tone. After conducting some research, the innovator used over $200,000 of her savings to hire a screen engineer, illustrator, copyright specialist, and videographer.

Later that year, she launched iDiversicons in Apple’s App Store, where customers had access to over 300 diverse emojis.


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The Washington Post reported that even after a successful presentation at the Unicode Consortium and a meeting with Apple executives that later led to Unicode members agreeing to add five diverse skin tones, the tech company still declined to partner with Parrott, saying they would design their own, directly into the iPhone, according to Unicode standards.

Parrott attempted to file a lawsuit against Apple for copyright infringement, but the case was thrown out.