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BlackBerry files suit against Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram over patents

07 March 2018

Canadian telecoms equipment firm BlackBerry Limited on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against social media giant Facebook, alleging that the platform and its offshoots, messaging app WhatsApp and photo sharing app Instagram infringed on BlackBerry messaging app patents.

"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," said BlackBerry in a statement to the media.

The company also notes that Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are "relative latecomers to the mobile messaging world" BlackBerry claimed that the company's proprietary and patent-protected messaging product BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was a cornerstone of modern mobile communications.

The company contends that its intellectual property has been infringed by Facebook's "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".

BlackBerry handsets were for a few years the last word in secure and versatile communications devices, till they got overtaken by the smartphone revolution around 2010.

In December 2016, the former mobile giant sold the rights to design, manufacture, and sell BlackBerry-branded phones to Chinese multinational TCL, leaving BlackBerry Limited in charge of software and mobile security products.

BlackBerry said its patents cover cryptographic techniques to protect user privacy, the mixing of mobile gaming and mobile messaging, and now-ubiquitous user interface elements of mobile messaging products.

Some of those interface elements are as broad as notification design, the displaying of message timestamps, and the ability to tag friends and family in photos.

BlackBerry is seeking "redress for the harm caused by Defendants' unlawful use of BlackBerry's intellectual property", which may include injunctive relief and monetary damages, according to the complaint.

In a statement authored by Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal, the social networking giant responded by saying that BlackBerry is looking to tax the innovation of others.

"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," the statement from Facebook said.

BlackBerry spokeswoman Sarah McKinney said in an email that the litigation is "not central to BlackBerry's strategy".

"Protecting shareholder assets and intellectual property is the job of every CEO," BlackBerry spokeswoman Sarah McKinney said in an email.

According to some commentators, filing patent infringement lawsuits is one of the strategies that BlackBerry chief executive John Chen is using to continue making money for the company.

BlackBerry is trying to persuade other companies to pay licensing royalties to use its trove of more than 40,000 global patents on technology including operating systems, networking infrastructure, acoustics, messaging, automotive subsystems, cybersecurity and wireless communications.

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