BlackBerry has accused Facebook, and its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp, of co-opting its mobile messaging intellectual property to develop their mobile messaging applications, in a lawsuit filed earlier this week. It says:
Defendants (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) created mobile messaging applications that co-opt BlackBerry’s innovations, using a number of the innovative security, user interface, and functionality enhancing features that made BlackBerry’s products such a critical and commercial success in the first place.
The four specific features that BlackBerry has highlighted in the lawsuit are:
Security Improvements: improved cryptographic techniques that establish and maintain security over user messages and provide the requisite trust necessary for user adoption of a messaging platform for their communication needs.
User Interface Improvements For Mobile Devices: including improvements in message notification techniques that streamline and optimise reception of new message notifications that prevent users from being inundated with numerous messaging notifications, display of timestamps in a messaging user interface that provides users with appropriate temporal context for their communications without overtaking the user’s screen with unnecessary information, and tagging friends and family in social media photographs.
Combining Mobile Gaming And Mobile Messaging: allowing users to more easily interact while playing electronic games.
Battery Efficient Status Updates for Mobile Devices: improved techniques for transmitting status updates based on whether a second device is viewing the status updates, to reduce power consumption and improve battery life in mobile devices.
The seven patents which BlackBerry claims Facebook and its subsidiaries have infringed are:
- “Method of public key generation,” which covers generation of a cryptographic key.
- “Previewing a new event on a small screen device,” essentially used for indicating arrival of new messages or indicating number of unread messages in the inbox.
- “User interface for selecting a photo tag,” which as the name suggests is used for tagging people in photos.
- “Handheld electronic device and associated method providing time data in a messaging environment,” this is used to insert a timestamp in text conversation when a period of time has passed since the last message.
- “Transmission of status updates responsive to status of recipient application,” this essentially helps a mobile device to save power by determining if messages are being read by the receiving device in real-time or not and accordingly send messages either in batches or one at a time.
- “System and method for switching between an instant messaging conversation and a game in progress,” allows for a messaging service and a game app to be interconnected, such that the user can both play the game as well as send messages.
- “System and method for silencing notifications for a message thread,” which is self-explanatory.
BlackBerry has claimed that Facebook has diverted “consumers away from BlackBerry’s products and services,” which has deprived “BlackBerry of revenue to which it is entitled as a result of its inventions.”
This is more serious than a case of patent trolling. BlackBerry did rule the mobile messaging market for a while, but it’s downfall wasn’t due to other messaging services infringing patents, but because the company failed to adapt to a changing marketplace. Some of the patents that BlackBerry has included in this lawsuit, cover use-cases that are intrinsic to mobile messaging as we know it today. A ruling in favour of BlackBerry will essentially mean Facebook will have to make drastic changes to its messaging services, which is unlikely. So, in all probability, just like Facebook had settled Yahoo’s patent infringement lawsuit, the social media major will eventually sign a patent licensing deal with BlackBerry.
And BlackBerry isn’t the first yesteryear market leader to file a patent infringement case against the current leader either: Nokia did it with Apple in 2016.
Note that BlackBerry had shutdown its ailing hardware business in 2016 and decided to focus on its software business instead. Following this, in February 2017, the company launched the BBM Enterprise SDK, enabling developers to integrate encrypted messaging, voice, and video capabilities into apps and other services.
Read the entire lawsuit here.