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.
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.