Katrina Parrott Is Taking On Apple Over Racially-Inclusive Emojis

"Picture Character" - 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Katrina Parrott attends the "Picture Character" screening on April 28, 2019, in New York City. Photo: Getty Images

It was 2015 when Apple rolled out a new batch of emojis representing people of different skin tones. What they weren't prepared for was the backlash over a set of emojis with a yellow skin tone, mainly from Asian communities who deemed the new additions "racist." The outrage eventually faded, and more social media platforms began introducing their own set of diversified human emojis.

What many people weren't aware of was the role a Black woman played in bringing diversity to the iOS platform -- and how she was allegedly robbed of her credit.

Katrina Parrott, a Houston resident, told The Washington Post she was the mind behind diverse skin tones for emojis, something she originally did for her daughter to express herself. In six months, Parrott put her savings into launching an iPhone app called iDiversicons in 2013. Users can finally use the app the represent their race with five different skin tones available.

“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 said in an interview.

The pioneer said she wasn't prepared for what came next in 2015 when the tech giant dropped their own emojis with various skin tones. Now, Parrott is suing Apple for copyright infringement. Reporters said the pending lawsuit was filed last year in a federal court in Texas.

Not only does the Houston woman claim the company ripped off her ideas, but they also did not give her credit nor compensation for it.

This becomes more egregious when Parrott was also the one who reportedly pushed these skin tone changes during a conference at the Unicode Consortium. Unicode is the coding language that allows emojis to be expressed on multiple operating systems. The Consortium standardizes emojis and approves new ones every year.

Jennifer Lee, a vice-chairman of the emoji subcommittee of Unicode Consortium, said she's surprised Parrott isn't more well-known. "If she had been a White male from Stanford or MIT in her mid 20s, it’s more likely her company would have been acquired by Apple," Lee told reporters.

The Washington Post also revealed that Parrott was in contact with Apple Senior Software Developer Peter Edberg.

"She met in a conference room with Edberg and Celia Vigil, a senior director at Apple," reporters wrote. "She gave Vigil a printout of her proposal and shared a flash drive with her emoji designs on it. Parrott came away from the meeting thinking there was a good possibility that she might sign a licensing deal with royalties or a contract in which she would provide the emoji."

They added that Edberg wasn't aware of the iDiversicons app before he spoke with Edberg. Vigil is now retired.

Edberg allegedly emailed Parrott back, saying that Apple won't be working with her on the emoji project. On top of the heartbreaking news, Parrott knew the new feature would make her app obsolete, too.

This also comes at a time when Apple pledged $100 million an initiative aimed at helping Black entrepreneurs with start-up boot camps and other opportunities, The Washington Post noted.

“The woman who was trying to improve inclusion gets excluded,” Todd Patterson said, an intellectual property lawyer in Texas who is representing Parrott.

Chron said Apple has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming “copyright does not protect the idea of applying five different skin tones to emoji because ideas are not copyrightable.”

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