Blackberry Goes Back To Its Roots: Sues Ryan Seacrest For Patent Infringement

from the innovators-vs.-litigators dept

Struggling also-ran Canadian maker of mobile phones, Blackberry (formerly, RIM), has quite a long history with patents. A decade ago, RIM actually was extremely aggressive in suing other companies for patent infringement. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that this was actually the beginning of the company’s downfall. RIM had a somewhat dominant position in the early part of the 2000s, and then started suing pretty much every competitor (and lots of non-competitors) for patent infringement. In turn, that resulted in a bunch of other companies suing RIM, including the infamous case of the patent troll NTP, who eventually got $612.5 million out of RIM after a tremendously high-profile, years-long lawsuit that brought patent trolling to the attention of both the public and lawmakers. Of course, the guys behind NTP have admitted they only sued RIM after reading about its aggressive patent strategy first. But, more importantly, it seems clear that the aggressive lawsuits, both inbound and outbound, resulted in the company taking its eyes off the innovation ball, allowing basically everyone else to leapfrog way past it.

As the company has been basically falling apart, we’ve fully expected it to go full on patent troll. After all, that’s pretty much what you expect of legacy companies who’ve lost in the marketplace and can no longer figure out how to innovate. Instead, they basically start to litigate against anyone and everyone — and RIM/Blackberry already has that sort of trait in its DNA anyway.

So it’s little surprise to hear that the company has launched a silly lawsuit against Typo Products, a company formed (of all things) by TV personality Ryan Seacrest and others, creating a physical keyboard that can attach to the iPhone 5. Blackberry claims the company “blatantly copied Blackberry’s keyboard.” But, it’s a keyboard. There are only so many ways you can make it, and honestly, if Blackberry wasn’t so focused on lawsuits all these years, perhaps it could have realized years ago that maybe it should have been making physical keyboards for the smartphones that the public actually seemed to want.

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Companies: blackberry, rim, typo productions

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Comments on “Blackberry Goes Back To Its Roots: Sues Ryan Seacrest For Patent Infringement”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Is it just a KB, or is it a KB with particular features that many associate with BB models such as its new Q10. After noting this article I looked around and found several BB user articles noting the similarity of the “look and feel” between this KB and BB’s KB. This suggests to me that while the lawsuit may perhaps be ill advised, there may be some underlying merit. Given that this KB is iPhone 5 specific, I would not at all be surprised that this is a challenge to Apple, but using Typo as a proxy.

BTW, BB does make some very good products, but my experience is that its reliance on its proprietary OS in not exactly a strong selling point. Like it or not, for the time being iOS and Android rule the day, with Android increasing its lead on what seems like an hourly basis.

Just Sayin' says:


” it seems clear that the aggressive lawsuits, both inbound and outbound, resulted in the company taking its eyes off the innovation ball, allowing basically everyone else to leapfrog way past it. “

Revisionist history? Blackberry’s issues have much more to do with having a proprietary network and way of doing things, and that they pretty much backed themselves into a corner by sticking with it no matter what. Their true failure isn’t one of lawsuits, but rather in only making a half hearted attempt to meet the surge of Iphones and Android devices head on, with OS / firmware / screen top / phone design that pandered too much to their past and not enough to where people where going.

They didn’t lack innovation, they jumped – in the wrong direction. Nothing in lawsuits changed that.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Really?

Actually, their proprietary network was the precise reason why BBs were so popular, because they were actually very secure.

What did BB in had more to do with their caving to certain governments to allow them to eavesdrop on BB communications over that network. As soon as that happened, they lost their only real advantage. There was no longer any compelling reason to use Blackberries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You know, the article might be over-thinking it, maybe they just really wanted to do something unpleasant to Seacrest, and this was the best they could come up with?

I guess they could always try to come up with some photos from when Seacrest did that tech review show back in the 90s and share them around. The bleach-blonde hair just about glowed. (Funny that his bio has pretty much been scrubbed of that…)

PaulT (profile) says:

“But, it’s a keyboard. There are only so many ways you can make it”

No, it’s a keyboard that attaches to a PHONE! It’s completely different!

It’s like something that’s blatantly obvious becoming genius innovation because you add the words “on the internet”, nobody else could possibly have thought of this without stealing someone else’s idea!

In all seriousness, I don’t know the specifics of the hardware and lawsuit here and there might be something being sued about that’s not the very simple idea of have a physical keyboard on a phone. If not, I can’t help but wonder whether RIM would have a product at all if their predecessors had patented/copyrighted things like the QWERTY layout and shift key that they depend on for their own “innovation”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have you seen the keyboard?

The company’s financial troubles have little to do with this lawsuit. You should have provided a link to the keyboard for people to see that it’s basically a complete copy of BlackBerry’s design. BlackBerry is well justified in this case. Here it is:

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Have you seen the keyboard?

Yes, I’ve seen it. There’s a fine line between mechanical necessity (hey, it’s a keyboard!) and unnecessarily blatant copying, and I think this product goes a little too far in the latter direction. BUT (and of course IANAL) this would seem to me more a trade dress issue than a patent one. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

One thing that IS clear is that Blackberry would be better off expending their efforts elsewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Have you seen the keyboard?

Check the complaint linked at 20 above. Case involves 2 utility patents, 1 design patent, and various state statutes dealing with unfair competition. The complaint is quite instructive in helping one to understand that not all keyboards are created equal. My admittedly quick visual analysis reveals why BB is not thrilled with what Tyco is doing, and that even morons in a hurry might be taken aback with what look almost like a clone of the BB keyboard.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Have you seen the keyboard?

Trade dress and design patents only apply to the ornamental features of an object, not to the utilitarian features. In its two utility patents, Blackberry has laid out the utilitarian rationale for the way the BlackBerry keyboard is shaped and arranged. That said, Blackberry must stand or fall on its utility patents. There is a lot of component-wise prior art. KSR vs. Teleflex affirms the obviousness of systematically combining prior art. The “ordinary inventor” is expected to make a systematic search for similar or analogous devices, build up feature-matrix documents, and assemble a “best-of-the-best” design. That said, BlackBerry’s utility patents would appear to be deeply flawed. BlackBerry did not really invent anything new, it only borrowed things which were already in use, and its patents are correspondingly weak.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: These patent lawsuits serve an important function

The design is similar to BB, true enough. I don’t know if it’s infringingly similar, though, as I’m not familiar with what the design patent covers.

However, I think it’s 100% wrong to call this a case of “ripping off” Blackberry. In what sense would this product deprive Blackberry of customers or revenue? Unless I’m mistaken, Blackberry does not manufacture add-on keyboards for other devices.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: These patent lawsuits serve an important function

As I previously noted, the basic keyboard layout of a BlackBerry, with a QWERTY keyboard superimposed on a numeric calculator keyboard, is substantially derivative of the old IBM keypunches. I know that I used such a keypunch in 1981, but they go back much further, perhaps to 1935 or so.

As for button shapes, size, spacing, etc., I think it might be useful to look at old VCR remotes, digital alarm clocks, etc. There were a lot of them manufactured in the 1980’s, before the patent horizon. A VCR remote solves the same character input problem as a BlackBerry tablet computer– it just doesn’t do very much with the information received. You will find that, as a matter of sheer random chance, the remotes touched all the bases.

I have an old Radio Shack clock radio, dating from 1995, which has a snooze button of the same shape which Blackberry has patented. It is of course designed to be operated while half-asleep.

I also have an Emerson VCR-3002 Video Cassette Recorder, purchased about fifteen or twenty years ago. This VCR has a remote, and the remote has a numerical keyboard, base around the system of small buttons at comparatively large spacing, relative to the button size, so that the spacing between buttons can be approximately half of the diameter of a thumb.

I think that when you combine these references, you are in a fair way to having a BlackBerry keyboard.

Classic Radio Shack Chronomatic 290 Am FM LED Alarm Clock Radio– Instruction sheet, dated 5/8/95


NB. The butterfly on the top is a user modification. My radio does not have a butterfly.

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