Useful New Product Threatens Older Company's Market Share; Judge Issues Sales Ban

In January I wrote about the Typo, a product that allows you to attach a keypad to an iPhone. The device immediately inspired an intellectual-property suit from BlackBerry, which argued that the Typo's keyboard was too similar to the keyboard found on BlackBerry's phones. I'm sorry to report that a U.S. district judge has now issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting sales of the Typo as the case moves forward.

As I wrote in January, the biggest problem here is

Buy now! Or...er...buy later! Maybe! If they'll let us sell it!Typothe fact that it's possible to drag a company into court for making this kind of product in the first place. A device that lets you mix and match elements of the iPhone and BlackBerry is an innovative and useful technology. The Typo isn't the only product that offers this possibility—the bulkier Keyboard Buddy Case has been on the market for a while, for instance, and the Solomatrix Spike attaches a keyboard to an iPhone on some hinges, so you can swing it on and off as needed. But the Typo has its own distinctive approach to the design and engineering issues involved, and at least some users think it's the best available option.

It could also lead to still better options. Right now the market evidently has room for just one major smartphone with a physical keyboard, and the business that makes that product is struggling. No one expects another company to start manufacturing a new keypad phone anytime soon. But a phone accessory that serves the same market niche: That may make sense. If the Typo does well, there's a decent chance that other enterprises will follow.

Unfortunately for BlackBerry, that may threaten its strategy for survival, which is to pursue the keyboard crowd at a time when other phone-makers aren't serving that market. You can't help wondering whether the primary purpose of the Typo suit is to squash some competition.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Blackberry should be flattered anyone is trying to imitate them at all.

  • ||

    It's clearly another case of 'giving is taking'. Blackberry is punishing Typo for not being innovative enough to create technology that they themselves could leverage or steal to defeat Apple and Samsung.

    Take down Apple or GTFO!

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Tiny keyboard? Tiny carpal tunnel.

  • sarcasmic||

    Who other than government workers and contractors use Blackberries anyway?

  • Freedom Frog||

    I've been told by people in the media that they are still popular with them.

    One is friend who works for CBS, the other is my ex-gf. I forget why exactly. Something to do with the keyboard. My Android keyboard works fine, I don't get it.

  • UnCivilServant||

    If I don't zealously scrub the touchscreen on my phone of any accumulated fingerprints, soon the keyboard goes insane. (It too is an android, but there are so many hardware models that I'm not sure we're using the same one)

  • Jesse Walker||

    Who other than government workers and contractors use Blackberries anyway?

    I do. And I can't stand the thing. But I have no interest in a smartphone that doesn't have a keyboard. I am the Typo's target market.

  • sarcasmic||

    No one I know, other than people who got their phones paid for through work, have used Blackberry products more than once.

  • WTF||

    Smart phones have touchscreen keyboards, so why would you want to add on a tiny mechanical one?

  • Jesse Walker||

    Because touchscreen keyboards are worse than Pol Pot.

  • ||

    I can see how it would be faster to type on a blackberry if you send lots of text messages.

  • kinnath||

    Blackberry had two reasons for existence. First, they could be connected to secure corporate email systems. Second, they were optimized for text messaging (see corporate email systems). The early adopters were addicted to them.

    Corporations have given up and are getting on the smart-phone bandwagon and are starting to let employees access secure email systems with non-Blackberry devices. So the only thing of value that Blackberry has to offer now is a keyboard that millions of users are deeply invested in.

    Anyone could design a keyboard attachment for a smart phone that doesn't infringe on the look and feel of a Blackberry keyboard. Typo explicitly chose to go after the Blackberry market by copying the Blackberry keyboard. So fuck them.

    Innovation is coming up with new ideas, not "borrowing" other peoples ideas.

  • Jordan||

    Typo explicitly chose to go after the Blackberry market by copying the Blackberry keyboard.

    It's a fucking keyboard.

  • kinnath||

    Compare the two keyboards side by side. Typo clearly copied the fucking keyboard. The Qwerty keys are not the novelty. It's the overloading of the numerals and punctuation. That's the part that makes Typo an illegitimate copy of a patented design.

  • Jordan||

    It's a fucking keyboard. This is patent troll "let's patent a phone number regex" territory.

  • kinnath||

    I haven't read the patent; so I don't have an opinion whether the patent is good/bad or weak/strong.

    But the patent exists; Typo copied a patented design; and the judge said Typo failed to show any reason why the patent wasn't valid (from one of Jesse's links).

  • PapayaSF||

    Kinnath is correct. It's not "just a fucking keyboard," it looks almost exactly like a BB keyboard, down to the horizontal bands between rows of keys. Maybe the patent is just a design patent, but it's clear Typo (dumb name) copied it very closely.

  • Jordan||

    That does not mean the patent is valid.

  • ||

    That does not mean the patent is valid.

    Or that the USPTO in general is not an immorally-constructed, government-run monopoly protection racket.

  • kinnath||

    From Jesse's link:

    Reuters reports that US District Judge William Orrick said BlackBerry had established a "likelihood" of infringement and that Typo hadn't sufficiently challenged the relevant patents.

    If you're going to copy a patented design, you better be damn well prepare to show in court why the patent is not valid or how you're dodging the relevant claims.

  • Jordan||

    Reuters reports that US District Judge William Orrick said BlackBerry had established a "likelihood" of infringement and that Typo hadn't sufficiently challenged the relevant patents.

    So what? We can say whether or not the patent is valid, regardless of whether or not somebody has challenged it.

  • kinnath||

    Then go read the fucking patent. You are the one questioning the validity of the patent.

    The patent exists; and until a court rules it invalid, it is valid.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    I'm an iPhone user, and have many friends who have Droids of various flavors, but the other day I saw something that did make me a little more impressed with Blackberries. A group of us were in a discussion about email clients, and somehow smartphones came up. The Blackberry guy said something to the effect that 'your smartphone can't do this', and tossed it up in the air. It landed on the ground. He picked it up and it hadn't even broken a sweat. I hate to think what my iPhone would have thought...

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    It's a fucking keyboard. How else would you design a tiny QWERTY keyboard with numerals and punctuation? Blackberry copied a typewriter. Invalid patent. Fuck off, Blackberry.

  • PapayaSF||

    Do an image search for phone keyboards. There are many variations, but only Typo's looks just like a Blackberry.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Who gives a fuck? It's a fucking keyboard.

  • PapayaSF||

    So if someone sold soda pop in bottles that looked just like Coke bottles, you think Coke's objection would be absurd because "it's a fucking bottle"?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Same bottle shape? Yes. Absurd. Color scheme? Yes. Similar name? Yes. Same exact name and logo? Maybe that would be getting in to "fraud" territory. Fuck IP.

  • PapayaSF||

    You may not approve, but Coke does have a design patent on the shape of the bottle.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    I know. And it is fuckin stupid.

    Also, there 2 liter design sucks. It is taller than every other brand, and so doesn't fit in my fridge the way I like the top shelf set. I'm not going to change it because that would be a huge waste of volume to accommodate a couple bottles, so I don't buy that shit. Pepsi sucks. That leaves Dr. Pepper, Royal Crown, and A&W affiliated products.

  • db||

    Come one, they're not thqt.bqd.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Because touchscreen keyboards are worse than Pol Pot.

    It's the high-tech secret police
    They have come for your uncool piece.

  • Old Dave||

    I have a BlackBerry Z10 and I love it. It's an excellent phone.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    My wife has a BB for work. She hates that motherfucker.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Blackberry (BBRY)

    March 29, 2010 $68.48
    March 31, 2014 $8.14

    Blackberry has lost 87% of it's market cap in the last four years. It's the innovative thinking and great new products that are driving this success story.

    Oh, wait

  • JW||

    I still find it remarkable how quickly a market leader fell into near obscurity. I loath to quote Iacocca, but his maxim of "lead, follow or get he hell out of the way" applies here.

    I think I got my first BB in 2003. Fucking solid devices and did exactly what you needed them to do. As Geoff noted above, one of the private BB forums used to have a "how far did you drop your BB and have survive?" threads. Pretty amazing torture they took.

    My last BB, around 2009, was a complete dog and I couldn't wait to get rid of it. S-l-o-w and 15 minute boots weren't my idea of fun. Onto the dustbin they go, along with Palm.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I think the prophet Join (in Idiocracy) summed it up nicely:

    Pvt. Joe Bowers: Why me? Every time Metsler says, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," I get out of the way.
    Sgt. Keller: Yeah, when he says that, you're not supposed to choose "get out of the way." It's supposed to embarrass you into leading - or at least following.
    Pvt. Joe Bowers: That doesn't embarrass me.
  • JW||

    Oh, and I don't miss admin'ing Blackberry Enterprise Server At. All. Jeesh, what a mess.

  • Another David||

    I thought the problem was copying Blackberry's specific key layout and styles - that is, the problem is that they're trying to pretend that Typo is a Blackberry product, rather than just competing with them.

  • Almanian!||

    CRIPPLE FIGHT!!!!!!!!!

  • Sudden||

    Or instead of bothering with any of that Qwerty nonsense, a smart handheld user could just get an android phone and install Swype on it.

    Of course the hipster Apple set wouldn't know how to operate anything that wasn't designed for five year olds.

  • Zeb||

    5 year olds can figure anything out. Apple iProducts are designed for people who have made a decision that they don't want to know how anything works.

  • sarcasmic||

    I don't know about that. The two smartest software guys I know both prefer Apple products. Though for them it's probably more of a snob thing than anything else.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Sounds like snobbery. The only Apple-centric person I know was a lifelong graphic designer and used it when photoshop ran better on Mac. Most techies are platform agnostic in this area (ie "I use what fits the application")

  • Sudden||

    A lot of computer programmers or DBAs that use iphones are very frank about why: "I use code all day at work, I don't want a phone to be something that I'll be tempted to tinker with."

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I'm a software developer and I love apple macbook pros. I hate the fact that they work so well and I have never had a pc that has lasted as long as my macbooks.

    The killer is that I can run a vm of a pc on my macbook, but I've never been able to run a vm of a macbook on a PC.

  • ||

    The killer is that I can run a vm of a pc on my macbook, but I've never been able to run a vm of a macbook on a PC.

    This is bad news for me, especially this week. I am setting up a VM on my iMac at the office, but I telework every other day and have a Windows PC at home. If a software developer can't make this work, I'm not too hopeful (though our sysadmin is somewhat optimistic). Problem is, it's not like I can just come in on my telework day - the iMac will be occupied by my cube mate.

  • Ivan Pike||

    but I telework every other day and have a Windows PC at home.

    Citrix? I have a PC at work and a Mac at home. We (DOI) use citrix so I can work from home or anywhere else seamlessly.

  • ||

    I can access my work network at home, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't actually be teleworking! Our iMacs are on a different network and not connected in any way to our agency's general-use network.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Wait, when did I say I was a good software developer?

    Yeah, I have tried a couple OSX hacks on a PC and they were more trouble than they were worth.

    And JW (below) is right, it absolutely sucks that Jobs was such a dick.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    VMware has a built in VNC server. You can pretty much use any VNC client on your home PC to connect.

  • JW||

    The killer is that I can run a vm of a pc on my macbook, but I've never been able to run a vm of a macbook on a PC.

    Thank Dear Leader Jobs for that. He forbade that from ever happening, lest it cut into hardware sales. Check the OS X EULA.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Although it is against the EULA, it isn't that hard to do. I built a hackintosh a while back, and it took me all of an hour to do it...

  • JW||

    Oh, I know it can be done, but it's not a slam dunk.

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    and Apple users probably don't even like the same music as you!

  • ||

    I had this idea the other day of making a modular phone design, so you could build your own phono like people do with PCs.
    i.e. have a motherboard with standardized slots and changable add-ons like the wireless antenna, wifi, keyboard, sound card, etc. That would allow you to upgrade your phone's hardware instead of buying a new one.

    Maybe it's a stupid idea, but I could imagine a market for people who really want to DIY their own smart phones.

  • Zeb||

    It would be a great idea if anyone paid full price for a phone. But right now the cost of the parts is likely to be way more than what people are used to paying for phones that come as part of calling plans.

  • ||

    Yeah, but then your stuck with a contract. Screw that.

    The target market of DIYers would be the same people who don't want contracts, I should think.

  • Jordan||

    You still pay full price for the phone with a contract, just not up front.

  • SlV||

    I've never had a mobile phone contract.

  • Invisible Finger||

    It's amazing how many people don't understand this. 2-year contracts are essentially a phone mortgage because the cost of "service" is twice the non-contract price.

    The large number of these idiots are also the reason Obamacare exists.

  • TransVanginalMesh||

    "the cost of "service" is twice the non-contract price."

    Lol nope.

  • ||

    I have literally never seen this in real life.

  • Juice||

    I upgraded phones to a newer model and my monthly rate went down $15.

  • gimmeasammich||

    ...paying for phones that come as part of calling plans.

    I have a question about this. Say I got my phone when I signed up for a contract with Verizon. My two year contract is up, but I'm still paying out the ass for service (and a payment on my phone which is now mine). Has anyone ever canceled their service after the term was up, and then immediately had their phone re-activated for a month-to-month plan? I looked up some of those, and it looks like I can get the same service on my existing phone for about half of what I am paying now.

  • sarcasmic||

    To have room to accommodate interchangeable internal parts, it would have to be bulky.

    If you could figure out how to do it in a small package, then you might be onto something. But I'm not seeing it.

  • Almanian!||

    The bag phone is making a comeback.

    COUNT on it...

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

  • ||

    Well, smart phones are getting bigger, cause people like bigger screens, so it seems like phone size has reached it's equilibrium.

    Still, the trick would be in the board layout and the design of the connectors. You want tiny parts that snap in easily and lay flat.

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    I saw someone using an iPad as a phone.
    (With headphones, not by holding it up to her ear)

  • Jordan||

    Watching people talk with the Samsung Note is pretty hilarious. Oh, and anyone remember the Nokia N-Gage? Nothing like talking into a taco.

  • db||

    Lots of cab drivers I saw 8n China had huge note-sized phones. The big screens seem to have caught.on.over there before here in the US.

  • sarcasmic||

    You'd still need fiddle room, and that would make the thing bulky like an old Motorola.

  • PapayaSF||

  • ||

    Also, shouldn't blackberries patent on this be expiring soon?
    Keyboards attached to phones have been around for a while.

  • SlV||

    Steamboat Willie's phone had a rotary dial.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Fed Chair Janet Yellen

    The "scars from the Great Recession remain, and reaching our goals will take time," she told about 1,100 people gathered at a downtown convention center here. "The recovery still feels like a recession to many Americans, and it also looks that way in some economic statistics."

    If it feels like a recession, and looks like a recession, can it really be called a recovery?

  • Acosmist||

    Recovery Summer is, what, almost 5 years old at this point?

  • Jordan||

    The stock market bubble has recovered. To them, that's success. They don't understand or give a shit about the economy at large.

  • Brett L||

    Oh, they understand. They understand that if interest rates ever recover to anything reasonable, the US government will fall.

  • ||

    shhh, you mentioned the stock market. That's sure to light the Asschugger symbol.

  • R C Dean||

    My understanding is that Blackberry is, or at least can be made into, the most secure mobile platform. Period. So people interested in security should be looking at Blackberry. That's an OS thing, not a keyboard thing.

    Now that Blackberry phones are unlocked to run Android apps, BBRY actually has a path to survival. If they really hammer their advantages (security, battery life, mostly, but those aren't nuthin').

  • ||

    The gubmint (Feds, I mean) almost exclusively uses Blackberry. Probably for the reasons you cited. RIM could probably survive quite nicely on government acquisitions alone. Lots of companies do.

  • ||

    Speaking of innovative ideas that encroach on established & protected industry....I used Uber for the first time last week and it was AWESOME. The longest I waited was 2 minutes, and my first ride was in a Suburban and my second was in a Town Car. I used Uber Black and it was only a couple $ more than if I had hailed a stank-ass Crown Vic DC taxi.

  • NoVAHockey||

    why the wait? I use UberX all the time if it's just me. UberBlack with clients. they love it too.

  • ||

    Why did it take 2 minutes, you mean? It was rush hour, and the closest available guy was, like, 2 blocks away.

  • NoVAHockey||

    no. the first time using the service. i've been using it for a year or so it think.

  • ||

    Oh - I never use taxis. I always use Metro/buses or my own car. I happened to use Uber for my birthday to treat myself to some upscale crap (including a night in a Kimpton Hotel)

  • NoVAHockey||

    ah. good stuff. My wife and I are fans of Hotel Rouge. and the Monaco.

  • gimmeasammich||

    Isn't it great? My wife kept ordering SUVs for my birthday. It was awesome, especially since we had too many people to comfortably fit in a regular taxi.

  • db||

    Seriously, flolks, why would anyone.need a bette.r keyboard on their.phone.anyway+?

  • ||

    Like, srsly!

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    That joke was yours for the taking.

  • db||

    Jesse sets 'em up, I knocks '2m do2n.

  • TransVanginalMesh||

    Indeed lol

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Maybe RIM wants to be on the winning side of a patent lawsuit for once?

    After being forced to pay out to NTP and Mmformation, they finally get to be the one getting they payola?

  • OldMexican||

    As I wrote in January, the biggest problem here is

    the fact that it's possible to drag a company into court for making this kind of product in the first place.


    What do you mean "the problem is the fact that a company can be dragged to court" for this?

    Hey, IP-proponents, that ain't a bug - IT'S A FUCKING FEATURE. How many times do we anti-IP (i.e. principled pro-private property rights advocates) have to tell you "I TOLD YOU SO" for you to finally understand?

  • Acosmist||

    I hear someone was wrongfully prosecuted for trespass once. Therefore, fuck all real property rights.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Acosmist,

    I hear someone was wrongfully prosecuted for trespass once. Therefore, fuck all real property rights.


    Please explain to me where am I suggesting that we get rid of property rights. Where is anywhere in the article a cogent explanation that what the judge did was in any way contrary to current IP law (not that is contrary to fairness or real property rights, so don't even conflate the two issues).

    Let's get one thing clear, A: Bullshit analogies are not true arguments. This is not the only and solitary case of a company using IP law to get a leg up on their competition; this has been happening since IP exists in the books as one more weapon for economic cronies. And we're not talking here about some patent troll but about a company that, under current IP and current precedents, can perfectly stake a claim on a FUCKING KEYBOARD of all things!

    Learn to argue.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I have no opinion on this.

    But a general question for my Libertarian frieds:

    What is the libertarian stand on Copyrights and intellectual property?

    Do you guys believe in patents and Copyrights? Should this be enforced by the free market?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Alice Bowie,

    What is the libertarian stand on Copyrights and intellectual property?


    There are two camps: Pro IP and those of us who are for real, true property rights which exist for rivalrous and exclusive economic goods, which means: If you have it, then I can't have it unless I either take it from you or engage in a trade with you for it, and once I trade or take it from you, you no longer have it to use or transform. Ideas do NOT behave in this manner no matter how many equivocations, prevarications, red herrings and obfuscations Pro-IP people come up with.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Alice Bowie,

    Do you guys believe in patents and Copyrights? Should this be enforced by the free market?


    You can't enforce property rights on things that are non-rivalrous and non-excluding, unless you come up with a machine that can erase minds á la Paycheck.

    This is regardless of contractual agreements. You can certainly enforce a contract between two parties but ideas spawn from one mind to another as quickly as viruses and you can't hold a 3rd party to a contract drafted by two other parties. This is why IP requires so obtrusive a government to "enforce" those "agreements" on people that never accepted or had knowledge of the terms and conditions in the first place. That is why it is inconceivable that a judge would grant an injunction to a company under the argument that the company has legal stake on a KEYBOARD (of all things) but that is what IP does - it ain't a BUG, it's a FEATURE.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Man, you're so edgy and cool.

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