Blackberry sues Facebook – has it just given up on tech?

Blackberry is taking Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to court for patent infringement relating to messaging apps. We wonder if Blackberry has just given up on tech in favour of a litigious business model.

Of course there are still areas of the Blackberry business where it is developing technology, but the brand on the whole is becoming less and less relevant to today’s society. Such is its relevance, the company is hitting the headlines far more often in cases where it is taking another business to court than for its technology breakthroughs.

Over the last few years, Blackberry has sued Nokia for transmitters and software IP infringement, won $815 million off Qualcomm in a royalties dispute and taken Avaya to court for infringement of eight patents for product lines such as unified communications, network switches and routers, communications servers and client software. Blackberry reportedly has more than 38,000 patents to its name, so there is plenty of opportunity to make the software licensing business model work.

In the Facebook case, Blackberry is claiming Facebook has been using its patents relating to messaging without its permission. The apps mentioned in the filing are Facebook Messenger, Facebook Messenger Lite, Facebook Pages Manager, Facebook.com and Facebook Workplace Chat, WhatsApp and the direct messaging feature in the Instagram app. For those who wish to have a look through the filing, you can do so here, though we warn you its 117 pages long.

In short, Blackberry is suing for the following:

  • Security improvements: incorporating cryptographic techniques into a messaging app
  • Interface improvements: streamlining of notification symbols, previews of messages and display of timestamps on messages
  • Tagging contacts in photographs
  • Linking messaging and gaming
  • Read receipts on sent messages

Blackberry claims all of these features are now ‘table stakes’ for messaging apps and social media, and it came up with them all. As you can see below, Blackberry has said it is the very reason Facebook has succeeded in the messaging game. Facebook used Blackberry’s IP against it to gain the upper hand.

Lawsuit

While we are not legal experts, some of the claims are pretty superficial. Saying that anyone using encryption techniques on messaging would have to pay Blackberry royalties is a pretty big ask. As is showing an unread message indicator on top of an icon. Blackberry also says it should be paid by anyone who doesn’t show a timestamp next to every message. But perhaps this is an intentional overreach.

When negotiating, it is common practise to overextend your hand. Ask for too much and the counteroffer will come back. The back and forth could result in a net-gain, assuming of course Facebook does have any intention of settling. The social media giant has indicated it will fight the claims, which will be a relief to anyone else in the social media game. Should Blackberry win this legal battle, precedent would be set and it could sue basically anyone involved with social media or messaging. Twitter, Slack, Apple, Microsoft and Google (just to name a few) might have one, wary eye on this saga.

Blackberry did beat Facebook to the messaging space and to be fair to the Canadians, it was a pretty notable breakthrough at the time. This could be viewed as one of the first appearances of a ‘zero-rating’ offering as messages across BBM would not be charged to the user. This made it particularly useful to users who were in roaming territories. Don’t forget, this is more than a decade ago when using your device abroad was a very costly exercise.

Ultimately Facebook and the other OTTs won out here because of scale of adoption, default installations on multiple devices and interoperability with other features. Blackberry might have come up with a great idea, but limiting the feature to a doomed device was never going to spell a success story. In the latter years it did try to release a BBM app to move into the wider smartphone world, but this was too little too late. Like a Dad trying to relate to a teenagers taste in music, no-one took Blackberry seriously.

This does seem like a very speculative move from Blackberry. It seems like it knows it is dead to the technology world, irrelevant and largely forgotten, but it might as well make as much money as possible. It has 38,000 patents so might as well have a bit of a look around and figure out what it can sue for. We can just imagine some ‘no win, no fee’ lawyer approached the beaten and bored Blackberry executives with the idea, and they thought why not, haven’t got anything else to do at the moment.

Blackberry continues quest to prove its still a thing

It used to be a shining gem in the mobile landscape, but the fall from lofty heights was well publicised. A new partnership with Baidu is the next step from Blackberry to prove it is still relevant.

The partnership itself will focus on the development of autonomous vehicles, more specifically, Blackberry’s QNX operating system, which will form the foundations of Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving open platform. The tie-up will also incorporate Baidu’s CarLife offering (smartphone integration software for connected cars) as well as its virtual assistant DuerOS onto the platform.

“Blackberry QNX has established itself as the OS platform for safety-certified production-based systems,” said Li Zhenyu, GM of the Intelligent Driving Group at Baidu. “We aim to provide automakers with a clear and fast path to autonomous vehicle production, with safety and security as top priorities. By integrating the Blackberry QNX OS with the Apollo platform, we will enable carmakers to leap from prototype to production systems.”

“Baidu has made tremendous strides in Artificial Intelligence and deep learning,” said John Wall, GM of Blackberry’s QNX unit. “These advancements paired with their high-definition maps and Blackberry’s safety-critical embedded software and expertise in security will be crucial ingredients for autonomous vehicles.”

Irrelevant as to whether you believe Blackberry still has a place in the digital world of the 21st century, Wall raises an interesting point which is often overlooked. Companies like Baidu, or Google and Uber, will be critical due the importance of mapping data, irrelevant as to whether their autonomous driving platforms are any good.

When we talk about autonomous vehicles we discuss the sensors, the AI components or the processors to power the vehicle, but very rarely about the digital mapping technologies which underpin the whole concept. This is not unusual, as it isn’t the most exciting aspect of the tech, but often the boring areas are some of the most lucrative. Baidu’s horde of geographical information is potentially an excellent hook onto developments.

Blackberry might, or might not, be struggling to hold onto relevance in the fast moving tech world, but holding onto the coat tails of fast-rising Baidu isn’t the worst idea we’ve heard so far this year.

Autonomous car industry takes on a life of its own

How did SK Telecoms autonomous car get on with Korea’s busiest road, is Tesla hungry enough to design its own chips and how is Blackberry still a thing? All good questions raised this morning.

Starting with SK Telecom, the team announced it has successfully tested its self-driving vehicle in public, and we’re not talking about some Asda car park where it only has to worry about teenagers learning to parallel park.

The vehicle demonstration took place on the Gyeongbu Expressway, the most heavily travelled road in Korea, from Seoul Service Area to Suwon-Shingal Interchange (26km) at speeds up to up to 80kmph. Teaming up with Seoul National University team, Nvidia and LG Electronics, the test is one of the biggest milestones since receiving a license from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in July.

“Following today’s successful test-driving of our autonomous vehicle on an expressway, we will continue to test our self-driving cars on downtown roads, national highways and motorways,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network R&D Center of SK Telecom. “Furthermore, we will connect self-driving vehicles to our 5G trial networks to advance technologies that can significantly enhance driving safety via IoT and real-time communication with the control tower.”

Over in the world of Tesla, the team is pushing boundaries once again, this time venturing into the previously unknown world of AI chips.

Very few people will argue over the innovation which has come out of Elon Musk’s business, but taking a dip into the world of microprocessors is something which might have caught a few people by surprise. According to sources at CNBC, Musk and his minions are working with AMD to create its own chipset for autonomous driving.

Musk has previously promised customers he will deliver on the promise of self-driving cars by 2019, and creating his own AI chipset to manage the autonomous driving tasks would certainly make that promise a bit more of a reality.

Tesla has not commented on the developments to date, but it has been noted the company is attempted to reduce reliance on other technology companies for future tech. Perhaps it was burnt by the Mobileye snub last year and just isn’t ready to open itself up to love quite yet. It has been working with Nvidia since the split, but maybe Musk just isn’t feeling this relationship is as fulfilling as with Mobileye. Perhaps he quite likes the idea of a spinsters life.

Heading up the team is Jim Keller a well-respected microprocessor engineer, known for previous roles at AMD and Apple. Keller is reportedly leading a 50-strong team in the venture, including several former colleagues after a raid of AMD employees in recent months.

Musk 2019

Finally, over to Blackberry. The Canadians have announced a partnership Delphi to provide the operating system for its autonomous driving system. This perhaps brings about one question; how is Blackberry still a thing.

The QNX operating system is certainly a well-respected name in the driving arena, but is there any need to maintain the Blackberry brand; is it actually adding any value? Most people associate the brand with a dated and clunky phone, more at home clipped onto the belt of an office supplies salesman than in-charge of an autonomous vehicle. Is this an association which anyone wants?

The partnership itself will see the pair work on software performance and safety in their operating system. Delphi’s autonomous driving system, Centralized Sensing Localization and Planning (CSLP), is set to launch in 2019, though the QNX safety OS will facilitate Delphi’s proprietary Ottomatika software algorithms and middleware, with the aim to enhance performance and safety.

“BlackBerry QNX will provide a robust software infrastructure for CSLP and help advance Delphi’s autonomous driving system,” said Glen De Vos, Delphi CTO.  “Safety in high performance computing systems is paramount to a production ready autonomous driving solution.”

“There is no safety without security,” said John Wall, GM of BlackBerry QNX. “With cyberattacks and threats to connected vehicles on the rise, it is imperative that auto manufacturers are provided with software that is safety certified, reliable and secure. This is an area in which BlackBerry QNX excels, and we look forward to the new opportunities this expansion with Delphi will bring.”

It is an area which certainly needs to be addressed, but one which has been glossed over to date. Perhaps this is because it is not a pleasant topic, but how do you ensure autonomous vehicles cannot be weaponised by nefarious individuals sitting on a laptop miles away. QNX claims to bring the capabilities to guard the system against malfunctions, malware, and cyber-attacks by implementing a multi-level, policy-driven security model.

If Blackberry can prove QNX is an OS which can safeguard the autonomous vehicle from external hacks, might this be a way for Blackberry to muscle its way back into the supply chain? It certainly is becoming a forgotten brand, but tackling a question no-one else wants to address would be a good way to recapture relevance.