BlackBerry, the former king of business-level smartphones, is seeking to raise money through different means. Although you can still buy BlackBerry phones – they’re actually made by Chinese company TCL Communications under licence – BlackBerry’s business now is largely focused on software, driverless car technology and monetising its many technology patents – of which over 40,000 exist.
Having won more than $US800 million from Qualcomm last year, and a confidential settlement with budget smartphone manufacturer Blu Products Inc, BlackBerry has a bigger target in its sights: Facebook. Not just Facebook, either, but two of its subsidiaries: Instagram and WhatsApp. BlackBerry alleges that the companies infringe on seven of its patents, covering everything from how encryption keys are generated right down to the concept of muting message threads and the little dot showing you have new messages.
Given how widely spread some of the concepts have become in the world of smartphone apps, it’s unsurprising that a company of Facebook’s resources has decided to engage its legal might in response. The company’s deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal, was particularly dismissive, arguing that the suit “sadly reflects the current state of its messaging business”.
“Having abandoned its efforts to innovate, BlackBerry is now looking to tax the innovation of others”, Grewal said. “We intend to fight.”
BlackBerry, naturally, sees things differently. “Protecting shareholder assets and intellectual property is the job of every CEO,” BlackBerry spokeswoman Sarah McKinney told Reuters. The company is therefore requesting the court instructs Facebook to stop infringing the patents – steps that could theoretically force the company to completely change how the apps work, or kill them completely.
‘Theoretically’, because in practice that’s unlikely to happen. If the court agrees with BlackBerry – and that’s a big if, given the widespread nature of some of the processes the company claims to have invented – some kind of cash damages are more likely. Alternatively, to neutralise the threat, it’s possible Facebook will be examining BlackBerry’s software, looking for opportunities to counter sue. Finally, despite Grewal’s bullish statement above, it’s possible Facebook will agree some kind of patent licensing agreement, as the company did when Yahoo sued it for patent infringement back in 2012.
The full list of BlackBerry patents which Facebook is alleged to have infringed is as follows:
- Patent 7372961: This covers how cryptographic keys are generated.
- Patent 8209634: This explains how BlackBerry could use badges with numbers in to show unread messages.
- Patent 8279173: This one introduces the idea of an auto-completing box for tagging contacts in photographs.
- Patent 8301713: This covers the inclusion of timestamps after a lull in conversation occurs.
- Patent 8429236: This patent covers how software can change the way messages are sent, depending on how the recipient is responding (e.g: if they’re not reading the messages right away, the phone can send them in batches to save energy.)
- Patent 8677250: This explains how messaging services and game applications can be connected, meaning that game progress can be pulled into message threads.
- Patent 9349120: This one covers how a message thread can be muted.