Melwin Joy
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Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy
Blackberry vs. Facebook: Patent infringement and a litigation

Like seeing that tiny number that adorns an instant messaging app on your iPhone or Android to tell you that you’ve got incoming messages? How about muting annoying groups that you can’t just leave without everyone else noticing? Love the fact that most mobile chat apps nowadays apps are encrypted? Or maybe you like playing games in chat apps with your friends while you’re chatting?

Well, BlackBerry says it invented technologies that make these features possible, and then some. The company, or what remains from the giant smartphone maker that once was, is now suing Facebook, alleging that the social network’s chat apps — think Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram — infringe several patents.

The social media giant has been accused by the smartphone company for using technology in its popular instant messaging applications.

After allegedly trying to hold discussions with Facebook for the past “several years,” BlackBerry finally decided to take Facebook to court, filing a patent infringement lawsuit against the social media giant.

BlackBerry has accused Facebook of co-opting parts of the company’s mobile messaging tech, and is seeking an injunction that, if granted, could shut down Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Additionally, BlackBerry is reportedly seeking as-of-yet unspecified monetary damages due to Facebook’s alleged “wilful infringement” of BlackBerry’s patents.

Just to be clear, the lawsuit is being filed by the original BlackBerry Limited, which was formerly known as Research in Motion and not TCL, who currently licenses the BlackBerry brand name to produce recent handsets including the BlackBerry Key One and BlackBerry Motion.

After largely getting out of the hardware business in 2013, CEO John S. Chen transitioned the company to focus on delivering secure software solutions for enterprise customers. While it’s not yet clear which patents BlackBerry believes Facebook violated, in an informal statement published, BlackBerry said:

“As a cyber-security and embedded software leader, BlackBerry’s view is that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp could make great partners in our drive toward a securely connected future, and we continue to hold this door open to them. However, we have a strong claim that Facebook has infringed on our intellectual property, and after several years of dialogue, we also have an obligation to our shareholders to pursue appropriate legal remedies.”

In response to the lawsuit, a Facebook representative responded with an official statement from the company’s deputy general counsel Paul Grewal that said:

“Blackberry’s 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. We intend to fight.”

Ban the apps

BlackBerry wants Facebook to stop providing its primary app. That’s not all. The company is also seeking that Facebook stops providing other apps like Facebook Messenger, Workplace Chat, WhatsApp, and Instagram as well.

As of now, no official figure has been quoted by BlackBerry. However, it is seeking injunctive relief and damages accounting for lost profits.

There are several features, according to BlackBerry, which Facebook has incorporated. These include: showing multiple incoming messages in an inbox, showing an unread message indicator at top of an icon, selecting a photo tag, and now showing timestamps next to every message in a thread.

No backing down

Going by the statement, it’s clear that Facebook has no intention of backing down. With BlackBerry also making a strong statement, it remains to be seen what shape this legal battle will take.

In 2017, BlackBerry had filed a patent case against Nokia alleging the Finnish company used almost a dozen of its inventions without permission. BlackBerry also won a dispute over royalty payments against Qualcomm last year. Qualcomm agreed to pay BlackBerry $940 million after an arbitration settlement over the case.

Dangers in corporate litigation

Litigation at the corporate level, particularly over intellectual property, is risky for both parties. Not only is the process very expensive, but it can damage the brand image of the litigants.

BlackBerry can’t allow the theft of its intellectual property, particularly given that licensing that technology is now how it largely makes its money. Facebook can afford to license, but is part of a wave of companies that didn’t believe in software patents and licensing and seemingly gives its products away for free.

The issue for Facebook, and other firms like it, is that the “free” concept is false. Should this, or any future litigation, convince a critical mass of people, or a government, that Facebook is an unapologetic IP thief, the resulting regulations, charges and taxes could eliminate Facebook’s ability to profitably function.

One final point: Generally, when one side of a conflict resorts to ad hominem attacks, it is a signal that it knows it is on the losing side. The Facebook attorney’s comments suggest the company is well aware it is on the losing side of this, but it seems very unlikely that BlackBerry will fold just because Facebook is calling it names.

There are other aspects to consider in this case, like which government better supports its respective firms. But Canada appears to support BlackBerry (something BlackBerry CEO John Chen has fostered), while the fake news issues and personal conflicts with the Trump administration have Facebook in a far weaker position. Thus the chances are that BlackBerry will prevail the case even though the process will likely be expensive and lengthy for both firms.

Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy