BlackBerry files suit against Facebook for alleged messaging patent infringement

7 Mar 2018

BlackBerry phone. Image: Svetlana Dikhtyareva/Shutterstock

BlackBerry accuses Facebook of copying features from its BBM app.

Canadian tech firm BlackBerry says Facebook (and, by extension, WhatsApp and Instagram) infringed on some of its proprietary patents.

BlackBerry alleges copycat behaviour from Facebook

According to documents filed by the firm and viewed by Reuters, Facebook “created mobile messaging applications that co-opt BlackBerry’s innovations, using a number of innovative security, user interface and functionality-enhancing features”.

In terms of the specifics of the suit, which spans almost 120 pages, BlackBerry claims some elements – such as messaging timestamps, unread message counts and notification dots – are covered under its patents.

The company is seeking redress that may include injunctive relief and monetary damages, although a specific amount was not noted.

Litigation as a business strategy?

BlackBerry filed the suit with a Los Angeles federal court, and a spokesperson for the company said that although “protecting shareholder assets and intellectual property is the job of every CEO”, litigation was “not central to BlackBerry’s strategy”.

The company’s phones were extremely popular in previous years, with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) touted as a standout feature. In countries where text messaging charges were high, BBM was an attractive and popular tool for a short time, but the likes WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger soon outpaced it.

Since BlackBerry lost its foothold on the smartphone market some years ago, it has also accused Nokia of patent infringement, as well as settling its own allegations of infringement with the aforementioned company, NTP and others.

It is increasing its efforts to generate money from its more than 40,000 patents in areas such as operating systems, messaging, wireless communications and cybersecurity.

BlackBerry now concentrates on supplying software and services to corporate and government clients, and its QNX software also powers many in-car systems. There are still BlackBerry-branded devices out there, but they are manufactured by Chinese company TCL, which bought the mobile unit in 2016.

Facebook said it would fight the suit, with deputy general counsel Paul Grewal saying that the filing “sadly reflects the current state of its [BlackBerry] messaging business”.

Grewal added: “Having abandoned its efforts to innovate, BlackBerry is now looking to tax the innovation of others.”

BlackBerry phone. Image: Svetlana Dikhtyareva/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects