Facebook is facing a major battle ahead as BlackBerry, one of the biggest smartphone makers of its time is suing for patent infringement.
BlackBerry is said to be behind a broad of software patents that cover some of the most basic features for smartphone messaging services which it claims Facebook copied and wants it to pay up.
According to BlackBerry’s Tuesday lawsuit, “Facebook created mobile messaging applications that coopt 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 lawsuit argues that Facebook subsidiaries Instagram and Whatsapp infringe BlackBerry’s patents in addition to Facebook’s own messaging apps.
Technology companies suing one another is not an unusual tactic anymore as they start to lose lead in the market, they turn to patent licensing as an alternative way to make money.
BlackBerry’s patent infringement wars began back in 2016 when it started by suing BLU, an Android smartphone maker which later agreed to pay up last year. It also sued Internet telephony company Avaya and is now moving on to Facebook.
BlackBerry is asserting seven software patents against Facebook, and they’re remarkably broad:
- Patent 7,372,961 covers the concept of generating a cryptographic key by choosing a pseudorandom number and then checking if it is “less than order q prior to reducing mod q.” If it is, the key is used. If not, another key is chosen at random and the process repeats.
- Patent 8,209,634 covers the concept of using icons with numeric badges to signal the arrival of new messages.
- Patent 8,279,173 covers the concept of tagging people in photos using an auto-completing search box.
- Patent 8,301,713 covers the concept of marking a significant lull in a text message conversation by inserting a timestamp reflecting the time of the next message.
- Patent 8,429,236 covers the concept of changing how a mobile device sends messages depending on whether they’re being actively read by the recipient’s device. For example, if updates aren’t being read in real time, then the sending device may be able to conserve power by sending messages in batches rather than one at a time.
- Patent 8,677,250 covers the concept of tying a messaging service and a game application together so that a user playing a game can send messages to contacts on the messaging app that includes updates on the player’s progress in the game.
- Patent 9,349,120 covers the concept of muting a message thread.
In short, BlackBerry claims to own some of the most common features of modern mobile messaging apps, whether they’re made by Facebook, Apple, Google, or anyone else.
BlackBerry has asked the court to enjoin Facebook from infringing these patents, which could require Facebook to dramatically overhaul these apps or even shut them down altogether.
But we don’t expect this to happen so easily as seen in the recent years where courts have been a bit reluctant to grant injunctions in cases like these and instead opting for cash rewards to pay for damages that typically wind up being less lucrative to the plaintiff.
However, we don’t expect Facebook to take this lawsuit lying down as its already gearing up for a battle to get some of the patents thrown out as invalid. It may also look for patents it can use against BlackBerry that could be infringing theirs too.
There’s a good chance that Facebook will sign a patent licensing agreement with BlackBerry—that’s how Facebook’s dispute with Yahoo turned out, after all.
Will BlackBerry win this time around? Or it will end up having to sign an agreement with Facebook to close the deal and bring matters to an end.
Allan Bangirana is a freelance writer for Newslibre and Spur Magazine. He is also the co-founder of the Innovware project and a freelance consultant passionate about tech, programming, games and entertainment.