back to article BlackBerry: Forget phones, Lawsuits In Motion is back – and it's firing off patent claims

When Blackberry announced earlier this year it was going to give up making mobile phones, most wondered what it would actually do as a company. Part of the answer is rebadged Android gear. Now another part has arrived in a new lawsuit lodged against internet telephony company Avaya: BlackBerry's going to become a patent troll …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    The sign of a dying company

    Sue, sue ,sue

    Look how well that plan did for SCO.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: The sign of a dying company

      Er, Apple sue other companies too, and no one's saying that that indicates the imminent demise of Apple, Inc. If anything BlackBerry have been far more patient with other companies concerning real technologies than Apple were over rounded corners, which arguably has cost them real revenue which they could now sorely do with collecting.

      SCO's claim was related to copyright, not patents.

      Regardless of what one thinks of the patent system and its use by companies, we have to acknowledge that BlackBerry really did invent an awful lot of stuff that is very good. Given their status as being a long established manufacturer, it would be churlish for anyone to say that they are acting like a patent troll (and I gladly acknowledge that you're not suggesting they are). I mean, if BlackBerry can't defend their IPR in court, who the hell can?!

      I am a bit puzzled as to why someone hasn't snapped up BlackBerry. They have a lot of very good technologies, and these add up to nifty little things that are great in handsets. Apple could acquire BlackBerry with the loose change in its back pocket, and would instantly acquire one of the more sophisticated patent portfolios available and a range of technologies that Apple simply don't have at the moment.

      1. Bob Vistakin

        Re: The sign of a dying company

        @bazza If they're just gonna make Androids from now on they've already been acquired.

      2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        bazza - try getting your facts right

        TSG (The SCO Group) litigation was about contracts, not copyrights. According to TSG, when IBM added code to AIX that made the functionality the property of TSG. Linux destroyed the value of Project Monterey, a joint venture by companies (including IBM and TSG) to create a single Unix for multiple architectures. TSG claimed that IBM broke a contract with TSG when it increased the value of Linux by adding TSG's functionality (that was designed by IBM, and implemented by different IBM programmers for AIX and Linux) to Linux.

        TSG said they owned the copyrights for Unix. They actually had a contract to collect royalties for Novell's Unix, pay all the money to Novell and in return Novell would pay TSG commission. TSG's litigation with Novell was about the lack of transfer of copyrights, TSG keeping Novell's Unix royalties and TSG suing IBM over Unix without authorisation from Novell.

        TSG also sued former customers because the licence agreement required customers to count the number of installations of SCO Unix they used (zero) and post the results to TSG every year. When the letters stopped arriving, TSG sued ex-customers for breach of contract.

        TSG made a lot of noise about copyrights they did not own and patents they did not have. They pressured some companies into signing a contract to pay royalties to TSG for any TSG code or patented material that might be in Linux. The contract was the source of revenue, not STREAMS (Licensed GPL and contributed to Linux by SCO, ignored by everybody and deleted from Linux when TSG started threatening every penguin on the planet).

        I am churlish enough to say that BlackBerry have come out from under a other people's bridges and are trollishly demanding money to cross. There is some strange belief that this behaviour is acceptable if the company doing it does (or used to) manufacture something.

        Patents were supposed to increase the rate of technological progress by rewarding inventors for publishing the details of their invention so others could use them. Software patents at best describe functionality that is obvious to those skilled in the art. The time consuming part of adding functionality is creating code that implements the functionality and the test vectors that ensure the functionality survives debugging, optimising, porting and feature creep. Software patents (== computer implemented inventions) do not include code (which is protected by copyright), so they do not increase the rate of technological progress because they do not include details that allow others to use them without doing all the work of coding and testing.

        Judges are beginning to understand this, and have set precedents reducing the value of patent portfolios. Some states recognise the damage that patents do to their SMEs, and have passed laws to place barriers in front of trolls. Filing in East Texas is by itself evidence that BlackBerry knows it is trolling, and would lose on appeal if their victim has the cash to last long enough. The reason BlackBerry has not been snapped up is they believe their patent portfolio has greater value than experienced trolls are prepared to offer.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: bazza - try getting your facts right


          So it's alright if I come and pinch all your best ideas then?

          1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

            Re: bazza - try getting your facts right

            did you even bother to take half a second to read what I posted.

            I did not mention

            - Patents

            - Copyright

            - Contract

            All I said was 'sue, sue ,sue'.


      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The sign of a dying company

        Er, Apple sue other companies too, and no one's saying that that indicates the imminent demise of Apple, Inc. If anything BlackBerry have been far more patient with other companies concerning real technologies than Apple were over rounded corners, which arguably has cost them real revenue which they could now sorely do with collecting.

        Yes, but Apple seems to have learned from it - they're a lot less in court now, and not for design aspects. Besides, Apple does it more to pester competition, as you said it's not exactly in the sort of desperate situation where patent trolling is the only solution to drag out its death.

        Basically, RIM has turned from innovative into a troll. At that point you *know* it's dead, the corpse just hasn't quite stopped twitching yet.

      4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: The sign of a dying company

        @bazza - There two times a company will sue for patent infringement. Case 1 is actually Apple. They have many valuable patents protecting their products which are selling nicely. An infringer is endangering Apple's profits from their products, thus Apple sues. Case 2 is a company that has no viable products but has patents. Their game is to sue as method of legal extortion, the classic patent troll. Blackberry is a fading manufacturer who is resorting to trolling to buy a few years because they were mismanaged for many years.

    2. Bob Vistakin
      Thumb Down

      Re: The sign of a dying company


      1. arctic_haze Silver badge

        Re: The sign of a dying company

        To be able to boycott BlackBerry I would have first to start being their customer.

        So far, I never had a BlackBerry device in my hand.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: The sign of a dying company

      Given that BlackBerry is worth chump change by Apple/Samsung standards, one of them should just buy the company, put it out of its misery, and keep the patents.

  2. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Hmmm ...

    I thought the story was one of the NTP pirates turning a former innovator into a company driven by lawyers. Kind of, bitten by the undead, and you become them. But if they sued someone else as early as 2002, that suggests they may not have been innocent victims even at the start of it all.

    Does El Reg have the journalistic resources to give a decent history of how, when and where it really started going wrong? I mean, with a bit more meat than this little list, and with a timeline comparing the decline of engineering and innovation to the rise of lawsuits, and such things?

    And with both Blackberry and Nokia down the plughole, where can I get a phone with decent mini querty keyboard? I still *really* miss the Nokia E71!

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm ...

      It's easy to state where BlackBerry went wrong. They rested on their laurels in the first half of the 2000s, and forgot that other people can innovate too.

      And BlackBerry aren't out of business, there's a range of keyboarded phones from them available, see the Priv (android), Passport and Classic (bb10).

      1. Dadmin

        Re: Hmmm ...

        Meh. They are Dead in Water. Sell your patents, RIM, and go drive a fucking ice cream truck or retire to the beach. Their days of "new ideas" are long gone. Most of what's patented are vague ideas without a specific product that will ever see the light of day. Sell them. Get on with your life.

        Let's face it, we all got used to using on-screen keyboards, they are not that bad, and when they are there is this wonderful invention called a fucking bluetooth keyboard. RIM trying to keep everyone else from doing anything near their keyboard design only made us figure out how to deal with on-screen keyboards all the more, because even on the best of days the Blackberry App store was a ghost town. Nice try. You fucked up. Now no one want those little trumped up pagers. Evolve, or die. There is no wait and see. And playing the Android game is a sell-out. Only Nexus is a viable Android platform. All others are orphan-town garbage like all Sammy phones are. You got a sammy? When was the last time you saw a fucking OS update? Yeah, you're a fucking high-tech wizard. Dopes.

        1. fruitoftheloon

          @dadmin: Re: Hmmm ...


          Err wrong matey! Quite a few people HATE touchscreen keyboards (I'm one of them), there are a number of reasons for this, mind is that my physical coordination can be 'unpredictable' shall we say.

          My Blackberry Passport is a fabulously well designed bit of kit, and runs all the Android app i need it to (Todoist).

          Each to his own eh??



      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        @bazza - chicken or egg

        They rested on their laurels in the first half of the 2000s,

        Yes, I know.

        But what came first? Stagnation or lawsuits? My impression was that the trauma of the NTP nonsense was a trigger for a change in corporate culture that stifled innovation. But that's not based on any real knowledge.

        Any reg readers who were RIM engineers in the '90s and/or '00s, your insights would be great!

        Oh, and none of those keyboard 'phones you pointed at would be a substitute for the E71. Too big to fit comfortably in the hand or pocket.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: @bazza - chicken or egg

          What came first? Definitely law suits. BlackBerry practically were the only smartphone (as it seemed to be at the time) of their day, which meant a healthy market share (though weirdly still quite a small share - they were expensive business tools). Then BBM became very popular with youngsters on a budget - BBM was a way of texting that was cheaper than SMS if you sent a looooot of messages (as teenagers do). So far so good, some clever ideas executed pretty well making good money.

          And then Apple come along and made a shiny, glitzy phone that mostly didn’t work very well as a phone and had unbelievably terrible battery life (back then a feature phone would easily last more than a week on a charge). Suddenly BlackBerry were nowhere (so was everyone else, eg Nokia). Android only just succeeded because it was given away, allowing non-Apple manufacturers to get a piece of the shiny-glitzy pie that Apple had unexpectedly baked.

          BlackBerry the fools tried to make their own thing, but was way, way too late. Had they done BB10 a year or two before Apple did the iPhone, the iPhone would not have had anything like an easy ride. BB10 is actually pretty good from a design and usability point of view (which is why I use it, but then I'm a bit odd...), but was way too late and missed the boat. For example BlackBerry Balance (not just BES) is the dream answer to the BYOD problem (it's really great for both people and company, it's way ahead of all the other MDM solutions), but no one in the market cares. It's not all bad news: BB10 (i.e. QNX plus a graphic front end) is doing quite well in the automotive sector, probably precisely because it isn't iOS or Android. The traditional car manufacturers don't want to be dominated by Apple or Google.

          We're kinda at the same point now with Apple and Android. Both well established in the market, but there's now a sense of stagnation brewing. iPhone sales are going down, and really what has been happening in the past few years is refinement of the idea of a smartphone. The improvements are now too trivial to reliably persuade people to upgrade in bulk. Nothing fundamentally new is coming out of Apple or Google. Android manufacturers rely on not putting out software updates to force people to upgrade.

          Apple in particular will also deploy the lawyers if they see fit to do so as a mean of maintaining revenue, and has already done so over stupid things like rounded corners (far more trivial than the patents BlackBerry are waving at Avaya). Google don't have to sue quite as much - they get money from people using phones, not from phone sales. Google don't give a damn if people stop buying phones.

          Apple in particular know they're stagnated, and both Apple and Google are keenly aware that someone could do to them what they did to BlackBerry and Nokia if they don't invent the next great thing themselves. Consequently they'll jump on almost any idea going. Hence the absurd iWatch and the whole wearable rumpus, and the Internet of Things. Both have to put effort into these things just in case one of them works. So far no success, meaning they're not having the right ideas. iWatch is a dead duck, Google have cocked up Nest, no one is really using smart wearables, Both are pushing into self driving cars, though this is probably going to be too big for even them. No one is likely to make a car truly self driving, we will always have to be sober and paying attention; so not fundamentally useful at all, really, no compelling reason to buy one. Google weren't too happy that the State of California published their trials data, showing that human intervention was needed about once every 1500 miles.

      3. PeterGriffin

        Re: Hmmm ...

        I'm quite impressed by the Priv. Had it any waterproofing I'd be seriously considering buying it. Not so many phone camera have optical image stabilisation and the hardware specification is decent too.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm ...

      A Galaxy S6/7 with the QWERTY keyboard cover?

    3. Nano nano

      Re: Hmmm ...

      The old Sony Ericsson "Mini" Android phones circa 2011 had a slide-out keyboard, very good too !

      But everyone has gone "pop-tart" format now ...

  3. DougS Silver badge

    They can't be a true patent troll until they quit making products

    Then they can sue companies like Apple and Samsung who have their own patent war chests. Even if Blackberry had only one valid patent and Samsung had 10 million valid patents, they could sue Samsung over that one patent, so long as they made no products for Samsung to countersue over the other 10 million patents.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: They can't be a true patent troll until they quit making products

      Well, a true patent troll has never made anything, and exploits the crazy patent laws they have in the USA to repeatedly modify an application until it closely resembles something that someone else is making.

      BlackBerry clearly aren't in that category.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: They can't be a true patent troll until they quit making products

        I don't agree with that definition. I think a company that formerly made stuff that is now just a shell that owns patents and sues people is as much of a troll as a company that buys patents and sues people.

        What you're talking about with constantly modifying patents to resemble existing products is something else altogether, but it is no longer a problem because 1) submarine patents were banned and 2) there's a paper trail for the modifications submitted to the patent office so since the US is now "first to file" rather than "first to invent" if they don't get the paperwork with the changes in BEFORE the "something that someone else is making" becomes publicly known, they won't get very far with the lawsuit.

        Your scenario was only a problem under a "first to invent" system where they could claim (whether true or not, engineer's logs can be faked) that they had actually invented it before the company coming out with an actual product did. Fortunately that was fixed with the patent "reform" a few years ago.

        1. TVU Silver badge

          Re: They can't be a true patent troll until they quit making products

          I fully agree with DougS' comment about Blackberry turning into a patent troll out of desperation. I'd like to see legal authorities around the world take a much firmer line on separating out blatant patent trolling from genuine patent disputes.

          As for Blackberry, I sincerely hope that, just like the SCO Group, their malign efforts ultimately end in failure.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: They can't be a true patent troll until they quit making products

            How do you prevent it though, without preventing those who are legitimately being screwed from getting satisfaction? If I invented and patented a way of increasing yield when fabbing silicon chips, I can hardly afford the billions required to build my own fab to take advantage of my invention. If TSMC read my patent, said "hey, that's a good idea" and started doing it, I need to have some legal recourse even though I don't make any products or use my patent in any way.

            It is hard to separate that from someone who just observes where the market is going, files a patent for something that was being done on computers in the 90s and was patented again in the 2000s "on a mobile phone" and they now patent it being done "on smart glasses". The onus is on the patent examiners to boot stuff like that, but unfortunately congress ties their hands by not letting them set their own fees or utilize all their own revenue to hire more/better examiners. Because congress is full of lawyers, and patent disputes are lucrative for lawyers...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who to blame? Not sure tbh...

    I'm not too sure you should fully blame BlackBerry here because let's be honest: who was it that granted these patents in the first place?

  5. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Well they lost their chance

    I mean they started with great hardware with crisp monochrome screens, keyboards and a decent battery life. However they didn't open their protocols which was their failing. They could have said, "Here's our Backend Server, but if you don't want to use it, here's the protocol specification and a little demo server for you to expand on."

    If they had done that, their devices would have moved on from "mobile e-mail" clients to mobile smart terminals. Lots of companies would have made bridges from their applications to Blackberry terminals. Since the Blackberry would at most store an authentication token to the server, compromising it would only give you temporary access until that token would have been invalidated at the server. They would have had an actual edge on security.

  6. kmac499

    My Keyboard Patent claim

    How about a silicone rubber skin\shell for your phone with an embedded GKOS style chording keyboard.

    The shell could have a thin mini USB to suck power out of the phone Or the it could use RFID to read the keys squeezed.

    I'm off to make a £million or so, just don't tell anyone til' I get down to the Patent Office ......

  7. Hans 1 Silver badge

    Avaya deserve everything they get

    Seriously, Avaya are a bunch of a*holes, Sue them to hell, bb!

    Cannot code windows clients, seriously, I am sure an intern can do better than they poor excuse for a client. They have no Linux client, yet recommend you install their software on linux to lower TCO. What a bunch of idiots.

    Now, if BlackBerry have a case, good for them, Avaya can rot wherever it is, I don't care.

  8. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    The irony

    Blackberry were the "victims" of the biggest patent troll payout in Canadian history

    Back when they started somebody claimed to have a patent on "email to mobile device" and asked for a few million $, Blackberry fought them and ended up losing a judgement for a couple of $Bn

    It's one of the first cases that convinced many companies that it's cheaper and safer to pay trolls a few $100K when they first ask rather than risk going to court - and so created the patent troll industry

  9. Martin Summers Silver badge

    If anything this just serves to prove that patents are pretty much worthless for what they are, what they are meant to be and only really as good as your lawyers. It seems there are no unique good ideas anymore and no-one actually gives a damn if they're using someone else's technology to make something anymore. The whole patent system may as well be shut down and all this nonsense stopped in its tracks. Companies can only really differentiate now by how much better their device does the job compared to their rivals.

  10. Croc O'Dial

    Last dying wishes...

    The last Will and Testament of a dying company is to be admitted to the Company Hospice where it can wallow in its own shite. It has no future but The Big Corporate Death. So, while there is still time, dig out the lawyers and pick a fight with a lesser firm in the hope that what the lawyers make will not consume everything a court might award.

    The sooner ShiteBerry gets flushed down the pan, the better.

  11. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    The lyrics for the picture

    Using the Sunset Boulevard pic was the right analogy, just the wrong version. The Andrew Lloyd Weber one with Glen Close would have been more apt. Not for any other reason, but because of the fitting lyrics:

    Fill someone's glass

    Kiss someone's wife

    Kiss someone's ass

    We do whatever pays the wages

    RIM is doing whatever pays the wages and it is all governed by the attitude of: "You are Norma Desmond, aren't you. You were big" - "I am big, it is the pictures which got smaller".

  12. Walter Bishop Silver badge
  13. Nano nano

    Thought they'd sued you into stopping use of the phrase "L.I.M" ...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    History of BB

    A bit abbreviated but reasonably accurate:

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