BlackBerry has lodged a claim against Facebook (and its Instagram and WhatsApp subsidiaries) for infringing patents used in its messaging technologies. The patents in question allowed BlackBerry products using its once ubiquitous BlackBerry Messenger ("BBM") to lead the way in:
displaying notifications to users without bombarding them; time stamping messages; tagging people in pictures or videos; and switching seamlessly between messaging and gaming without disrupting a game in progress.
Those features now seem trivial, as we are so used to seeing a single notification for a WhatsApp exchange that has 27 new messages, rather than 27 separate notifications, and dragging a message left or right to see what time it was received. We also take for granted that a picture on Facebook can be tagged to let us know who is in it, and long gone are the days when reading a message while playing a game meant starting from scratch.
However, that is how it once was.
The patents cover the technology that BlackBerry used in its own products, which allowed it to become (for a short time in the very early days) the market leader in smartphones for the consumer market.
BlackBerry alleges that Facebook and its subsidiaries infringe on its patents in apps such as Facebook Messenger (and the Lite variant), WhatsApp and Instagram. The allegation is that the Defendants infringing use of the patents has diverted custom away from BlackBerry and its devices because users could (and can) access these same features on other devices by using the Defendants' apps.
While other beneficiaries of the alleged infringement might be more obvious (Apple, Samsung, HTC etc.), there is no allegation that those companies directly infringed the patents by allowing the Defendants' apps to be used on their platforms.
It will be interesting to observe how this plays out, especially as BlackBerry has now exited the smartphone market entirely (save that it licenses its patents and designs to HTC to manufacture BlackBerry devices for the Chinese markets).
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