Intellectual Property

BlackBerry Sues the Competition

When patent law blocks innovation.

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Patents are supposed to foster innovation by restricting competition—in the Constitution's words, to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" by giving inventors a temporary "exclusive Right" to their creations. But sometimes those restrictions can suppress innovation instead of encouraging it.

Consider the Typo Keyboard Case, which is supposed to start shipping to consumers this month. The idea behind the device is simple. Right now, people who prefer a smartphone with a physical keyboard basically have just one option, the BlackBerry. If you like real keyboards but prefer the iPhone's operating system, you have to either put up with the BlackBerry's software or put up with the iPhone's virtual keyboard; no phone-maker offers a product that combines the best of both worlds. The Typo fills that gap. It's a case that lets you slip a keypad over an iPhone and type the way the QWERTY gods intended, without a flat touchscreen that makes errors inevitable and without an algorithm that "corrects" words that weren't errors in the first place.

The people who created the case have been very explicit about what they were doing. When a CNN correspondent discussed the device with Typo co-founder Ryan Seacrest—yes, the American Idol host—the reporter suggested that the product gives users "the best thing about a BlackBerry, within the iPhone." Seacrest replied, "That's kind of how this came to fruition." Many press accounts have noted how much the Typo keyboard looks and feels like a BlackBerry keyboard; the phrase "BlackBerry clone" comes up a lot.

Enter BlackBerry's lawyers. In a suit filed January 3, the company charged the upstart with violating three of BlackBerry's patents and its trade dress. (A trade dress is a set of distinctive visual characteristics that reveal what company made a product—the shape of a glass Coca-Cola bottle, for example. They are legally protected in order to prevent customer confusion, so the premise here is that people might mistake the Typo for a BlackBerry product, even though it does not bear the BlackBerry logo and even though BlackBerry is not in the business of making cases for iPhones.) In addition to asking the courts to block sales of the Typo, BlackBerry is seeking triple damages.

I won't venture a guess as to how the suit will fare in court (though I'll note that there are in fact some differences between the two keyboards—the placement of the question mark and exclamation point have been reversed, for example). Instead I'll complain about the 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. Even if the case doesn't drive the Typo off the market, it still will force a startup to divert its resources to defend itself in court. That isn't good for consumers, and in the long run it isn't necessarily even good for BlackBerry: If people would rather attach a keypad to an iPhone than use the company's products, perhaps it should spend less money on lawyers and more coming up with new innovations of its own.

This story may well end with Seacrest and company learning that BlackBerry has the law on its side. But if that happens, the law is doing just half of what it's supposed to do. Restricting competition? Definitely. Fostering innovation? Not this time.

NEXT: NLRB Complaint: Walmart Illegally Retaliated Against Striking Workers

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  1. But sometimes almost always those restrictions can suppress innovation instead of encouraging it.

    Yeah, that needed fixing.

    1. Yeah, that needed fixing innovating.

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  2. Patents are supposed to foster innovation by restricting competition.

    That’s one, rather tendentious, way to put it.

    Another would be that patents are supposed to foster innovation by giving inventors some assurance that they can reap the benefit of their labors, given the ease with which that benefit can otherwise be appropriated by others.

    1. Re: RC Dean,

      That’s one, rather tendentious, way to put it.

      Why would that be? That is what patent laws do: restrict competition under the guise of ecouraging competition.

      Another would be that patents are supposed to foster innovation by giving inventors some assurance that they can reap the benefit of their labors

      Now THAT’S tendencious, considering that no one can assure such a thing unless your name is Kim Jong Un and the inventors are friends of yours.

      1. OM, I didn;t say that Jesse’s formulation was wrong; just that it was rather argumentative and one-sided.

        You can say pretty much the same thing in another way that comes off differently, which is all I was trying to do.

        You will also note that I referred to “some” assurance, not the kind of absolute assurance that requires an absolute ruler.

    2. They were never supposed to fucking do that. That is just a completely stupid sentence.

    3. Patent and IP are a bottomless well of dispute, but patent rights are just a form of property, and its interesting to me how many attack on IP sweep too broadly and take in other forms of property as well.

      Could one not also say, for example, that property laws generally are supposed to foster, say, productivity by restricting competition?

      After all, your competition can’t use or sell your property, can they? Say you’ve spent all year working on your wheat crop. The only thing preventing your competitor across the road from appropriating your wheat crop is your property rights in that crop (leaving aside self-help).

      Now, say you’ve spent all year working on your new mousetrap design. The only thing preventing your competitor from appropriating your design is your property rights to that design via your patent.

      I’m having a hard time seeing why your wheat crop should be protected, but your mousetrap design shouldn’t.

      1. patents on intellectual property = title on physical property ?

        I can dig it.

      2. You either own your ideas or you don’t, patents at least give you a chance to reap some benefit.

        Now if only patents were awarded in a reasonable way for truly unique concepts rather than vague drawings on napkins from the Apple commissary then things would improve…

      3. Here’s the difference. If I use you mouse trap design, you can still use it. If I each your wheat, you can’t.

        If you and I have neighboring wheat feild the line between mine and thine is very clear. There’s some sort of fence and latitude or longitude line dividing the feilds.

        The point of property laws is first and foremost to reduce contention, but so-called IP is not contentious. The only justification is the appeal to productivity on the average, a claim not supported by the empirical evidence except in the pharmaceutical industry, which is unique because of the very high regulatory barrier to bring a product to market.

        With patents you’re better off not even trying to find the lines (never mind that they are written by lawyers to be as broad and vague as possible) as you’re setting yourself up to pay triple damages should a suit against you ever succeed.

        The patent doesn’t neccessarily conver just the particular design you used, but any design that has features you used as a claim in your patent.

  3. Its funny, isn’t it, that this country has produced a veritable non-stop, and historically unprecedented, explosion of innovation in spite of the government trying to “suppress” innovation via the patent laws.

    I got no brief for the current effed up application of the patent laws. What the patent laws are supposed to suppress isn’t innovation, but copying, which by definition isn’t innovation. You can’t draw a hard line between copying, a marginal/evolutionary improvement, a drastic improvement, and a completely previously-unimagined innovation, of course, and no doubt the regulatory capture and general ineptitude of the Patent Office contributes to the current sorry state.

    I’ll complain about the fact that it’s possible to drag a company into court for making this kind of product in the first place.

    That has to do with incentives: you can sue anybody for anything. As is true elsewhere in our legal system, the incentives are drastically loaded in favor of plaintiffs. Go to a “loser pays” system, with a multiplier if the plaintiff sought treble damages, and you might change this problem.

    Monkeying with the patent laws (short of outright repeal) won’t really make a difference.

    1. Actually loser pays is an incredibly dumb idea as it is based on the assumption that any case brought by the plaintiff that they fail to win was a fricolous or groundless case.

      There is absolutely no legitimate justification for forcing a plaintiff with a valid but ultimately losing case to cover the expenses of the defendant and doing so basically guarantees that no one could ever sue anyone who had significantly more assets because they would be facing the risk that the defense would spend so much on their defense that no only would they have a far greater chance of winning but that losing the case would bankrupt the plaintiff.

      Adding in a component where a plaintiff can be penalized by paying costs plus a fine to the court for filing groundless cases would make sense but to make it guaranteed based totally on whether one side or the other wins is idiotic.

      1. Rasilio, why is it perfectly OK to have asymmetrical burdens and risks in civil litigation?

        Why should party X who loses the dispute have to pay party Y’s costs, but if Party Y loses the dispute, they don’t have to pay party X’s costs?

        Why do you disregard the decision of the judge or jury that the plaintiff’s case wasn’t really all that legit after all?

        Sure, at the margins some decent cases won’t be worth the risk of bringing. But, as it is, we are buried under cases that shouldn’t have ever been brought.

        Asymmetrical incentives bring distorted results, is all I’m saying.

        1. You are not paying attention. I don’t think ANYBODY should be paying someone elses costs simply because they lost the case.

          Losing the case, whether plaintiff or defendant does not mean that there was no legal basis for your case, there should be the concept of a frivolous suit as well as a frivolous defense and in those cases you should be forced to pay both your opponents costs AND heavy fines to the court for waste of resources. Simply losing cases however should not be the same thing

      2. Can people countersue on the grounds that a lawsuit is frivolous?

        1. As a practical matter, no. The bar for recovery of defendant costs is set extremely high.

        2. Technically, in most jurisdictions, yes. But as Old man With Candy noted it is virtually impossible to succeed on such a claim.

      3. If it is valid, it is not a losing case. That a company, for instance, Blackberry would wager so much on a case is simply poor judgement and the market will simply put them out of business.

        No one is forcing them to push this case.

        You are placing “loser pays” in a false environment. Loser pays will make plaintiffs think twice on the legitimacy of their case before pursuing a lawsuit, No?

  4. “No one expects another company to start manufacturing a new keypad phone anytime soon”

    Actually there are still plenty of ‘slide out’ keyboard phones out there. A quick look shows Motorola, LG, Samsung still make models.

    http://www.digitaltrends.com/best-qwerty-phones/

    And there’s still things like the Droid Pro available on the market (in fact is a common ‘free phone’ on cheap plans). I have one. It has… issues, shall we say.

    I think the dearth of keyboard phones isn’t so much about competitive restriction, but rather the growing demand for MORE and MORE screen space. Also the oft-mentioned ‘kids these days’ seem not to miss the older ‘querty’ keyboard-phones so much, having never used them in the first place. Also, they cant spell anyway.

  5. Last serial post:

    The smart play for Blackberry here would, of course, have been to buy out the Typo case and make it their own. Would have been faster and might have actually turned into a real revenue stream for them.

    1. The smart play for Blackberry here would…

      ….”Smart play” and “blackberry”…. in the same sentence?

      No. Sorry.

    2. Smarter play is to license with exclusivity. The point of a patent system is to ensure that inventors can profit from their innovation for a specified period (after which it’s fair game for anyone), and there’s lots of ways of doing that.

      There’s a lot of things wrong with the patent system- I lost at least one company because of frivolous litigation by a well-funded competitor who lost the case but won by sinking us in legal fees and paralyzing us with discovery and deps- but the basic concept of patentee rights is a good one.

      The fixes for the patent system problems are simple, and of course will never be done because they will reduce the revenue stream to lawyers.

      1. I lost at least one company because of frivolous litigation by a well-funded competitor who lost the case but won by sinking us in legal fees and paralyzing us with discovery and deps

        According to Rasilio, this is just the price we (well, you) have to pay for a justice system.

        Bet it doesn’t feel like justice to you, what with you winning your case and losing your company.

        1. If lawyers are involved, and the judge is a lawyer, the absence of justice is a near-certainty.

          1. In Pennsylvania, Magistrates (small claims courts and traffic tickets) are not required to be lawyers. There is no more injustice than what is committed on a daily basis in these courts. While Judges are lawyers and they are terrible, Magistrates are evil.

  6. atents are supposed to foster innovation by restricting competition ? in the Constitution’s words, to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by giving inventors a temporary “exclusive Right” to their creations.

    It does no such thing; the framers of the Constitution got that one wrong.

    If you can reap all the rewards from a single invention, why in hell would you then spend additional time and effort to improve upon it? Why do you think the BlackBerry is such a clunky piece of telecommunications shit?

    Restricting competition does not foster or encourage innovation, save on how to get around the restriction, in which case the human mind demonstrates an amazing capacity for ingenuity. But that shouldn’t be the way to foster innovation – by encouraging black markets – but by letting people actually compete.

    1. What are you even talking about? Someone copies someone else’s idea, then they engage in fisticuffs?

    2. If you can reap all the rewards from a single invention, why in hell would you then spend additional time and effort to improve upon it?

      Yeah, why does Apple keep bringing new iPhone and iPad models to market?

    3. why in hell would you then spend additional time and effort to improve upon it?

      You understand that your improvements can also be patented? A lot of ways to monetize that.

      Even if you are determined to only monetize via a monopolistic sales strategy, you have to keep improving because, first, competitors will be looking at alternative ways to satisfy the same consumer need or desire, and second, competitors will be very creative at finding ways to skirt extremely close to your patent but not literally violate the fine print of the claims.

      1. One more thing: the differentiator between patents and other non-tangible property is the term limit. Patents expire rather quickly compared to trademarks or copyrights. If you build a sustainable business from your IP, you have to keep stoking the furnace to achieve long term survival.

        1. the fact IP monopolies expire is the strongest case for why they are nonsense.

          if there was real moral merit to the claim it would not go away. ever.

          whoever inherited the fire invention patent would be rich. he’d be a co-plaintiff of every arson case too.

          1. So because my lease expires after one year, it’s nonsense and my landlord has no “moral merit to the claim”? If I am awarded a two year exclusive distribution agreement from one of my suppliers, it’s also nonsense and meritless? That’s a pretty weak argument.

            1. Those agreements arose from voluntary exchange of value for mutual benefit. Patent protection arises out of thin air.

              1. Likewise patents. They are voluntary (one has to apply for them), and in exchange (unlike trade secrets), they’re out there for anyone to read, learn from, build upon.

    4. @OldMexican Not protecting innovation stifles further innovation.

  7. The best part about being a brigand, or pirate is that you do not need to rationalize, or justify your theft. You can be completely honest about your dishonesty. =)

    1. Quite true. Copiers are not brigands or thieves, however. To be a thief, you would have to take actual property and not fantasy property like IP.

      1. Intangible Property. My OldMexican friend. =)

        1. Nowhere in the code is that term or the term “intellectual property” found. Torts brought based on violation of copyright, on infringement of a patent or trademark, make no reference to the laws regarding theft, robbery, or piracy.

      2. Hate to break it to you but physical property is every bit as much a legal fiction.

        Explain how it’s not.

        1. Well Tony. Just give me your bank account numbers as well as your credit card numbers, and we will put your “physical property being legal fiction” theory to the test. =)

          1. Ironic that you’d talk about stealing ones and zeroes.

            I didn’t say legal fictions weren’t useful.

            1. So you do not want me helping myself to the fruits of your labors. =)

              1. I wouldn’t quite refer to my money in that way, as I don’t work all that hard for it.

                1. you can imagine our surprise at hearing that…

                2. Being a trust fund baby is even more reason to post the access numbers JPyrate requested. Put your money where your mouth is with respect to redistribution of wealth being a good thing.

                  Don’t bother me with semantics, just redistribute your wealth, or shut up and make up another user name.

                  1. I redistribute my wealth every day. For the most part it goes to large corporations (occasionally a local restaurant owner). That’s what capitalism is for: redistributing wealth upward. And that’s why it must be paired with a little socialism to redistribute the other way, lest we end up with the feudalism we’ve spent so many centuries getting away from via liberalism.

                    1. And that’s why it must be paired with a little socialism to redistribute the other way, lest we end up with the feudalism we’ve spent so many centuries getting away from via liberalism.

                      0.o

                      You do realize that feudalism works on a centrally planned economy just like socialism right ?

                      …..

      3. To be a thief, you would have to take actual property and not fantasy property like IP.

        Lemme guess: actual property must exist in physical form, right?

        However, your property rights are entirely intangible. A piece of ground exists in physical form. However, all of your rights to that piece of ground, from its definition via survey and title documents through your rights to exclude others, rent it out, etc., are completely intangible, are they not? You cannot hold a property right in your hand.

        I think this is where people get confused: they don’t distinguish between the object of property rights, and the property rights themselves.

        Now, if you want to say the object of property rights must be physical, have a go at it. Keep in mind, however, that virtually none of the money now in existence has ever existed in physical form.

        1. The idea that intellectual property doesn’t exist (not the argument that it shouldn’t be legally protected, but that it actually doesn’t exist) gets even more tricky when you get into contracts. Non-disclosure agreements, non-compete agreements, exclusivity agreements, etc would seem to be null and void in OM’s libertopia. After all, if you don’t own the output of your mind, and if ideas are collective and without ownership, entering into a non-disclosure or non-compete is essentially a slave contract; one party would ostensibly be attempting to control the other’s actual thoughts and actions and ability to use their legitimately obtained private property in the exact same way that a patent prevents a copycat from doing so. That’s not even a reductio argument, OM has flatly said that both patents and copyrights infringe on the rights of everyone else to use their mind and their private property to think the same thoughts and turn them into the same products as others.

          1. So in OM’s ideal world, not only does intellectual labor belong to the collective, but you have no recourse against, say, a contract manufacturer making a copy of your CAD files and churning out 10,000 units of your product to sell out the back door since a NDA would be an unenforceable contract – you can’t contract for exclusivity of rights you never possessed. It’s important to keep in mind the distinction here between intellectual property not being worthy of government protection in the form of patents and copyright and intellectual property simply not existing at all in a philosophical sense (OM has been very clear that he believes the latter, not the former).

            It’s at least consistent, I’ll give him that much. I don’t think the practical result of Marxism for the mind and capitalism for the hands would be quite what he claims though.

        2. IP has no inherent scarcity.

          its a different animal than tangible property. Its also its own special case of intangible.

          Not all intangible is immune to scarcity. But IP is.

          Lots of intangible is limited by humans and their relationships, such as liking, trust, consent. Thus they are intangible, and constrained by scarcity.

          But IP has no human relationship limitations.

          not only is it intangible, its 100% immune to scarcity.

          1. This might be the most idiotic weapon in the anti-IP arsenal since it relies on the presumptive inevitability of discovery. And that gets at the whole crux of the concept of IP being imaginary: it denies credit to the originator of a discovery by implying that his discovery was somehow inevitable; an ethereal thing out there ready, willing, and able to be plucked from the void by literally anybody. It’s a pretty arrogant assumption to make – particularly if you’ve never discovered, invented or created anything yourself.

            1. Symphonies, vaccines and microwave ovens invent themselves. Didn’t you know that? Every morning when I wake up, I think about all the things that invented themselves while I slept…all those things for me to steal.

            2. Nonsense, that something is difficult or costly to discover is a seperate fact, from the fact it’s use leads to no dimminishment of it’s ability to further satisfy human wants and desires.

              In the case above, no matter how many people build phones or phone accessories with physical keybords, there is no danger that one day we might not be able to have a phone with a keyboard because the idea has been used up.

  8. In a suit filed January 3, the company charged the upstart with violating three of BlackBerry’s patents and its trade dress

    For those unthinking dolts that still cling to the ridiculous notion that IP “fosters” innovation, how do you reconcile BlackBerry’s mind-boggling efforts to extort money from some low-level competitor (which ends up doing little more than clothing and feeding lawyers and their children) instead of putting the money spent into product improvement or marketing or other things that make actual economic sense?

    1. I would say that there is no such thing as a perfect system. Someone will always engage in shenanigans. That is why we have courts. I want my ideas protected so I can make some money without someone taking there value away from me. Also I hope BlackBerry loses this one.

    2. As always, we’re talking past each other.

      I don’t see anyone defending our current IP system as applied today.

      I, for one, see a very valuable role for IP in principle. And, though I shudder to admit this since it lines up with a Tony post, I think there is an awful lot of truth to the idea that conceptually there is little difference between many IP and many other forms of property that we would all agree are essential.

    3. It is a jerk move but from their perspective they’re protecting the years of investment in developing the blackberry which the “upstart” decided to appropriate for themselves. An equally jerk move that doesn’t promote innovation but instead laughs at the face of innovators by saying hey, if I like it I can take it so thanks for the hard work.

    4. Speaking as someone who makes his living off making genuine inventions I can say from personal experience that you’re full of shit. You need to explain how a system which offers no protections for IP is going to foster innovation and not just tiny operational efficiency improvements. Can I use your capital when you’re not? Why not? Because it’s “physical?”

      China has shit all IP enforcement. Where are the inventions? Please show me. You like cheap cloned shit. I get that. Everything would be cheaper if we didn’t have to pay for R&D. Imagine how much cheaper everything would be if we didn’t have to pay for labor. Funny thing about costs: they cost.

      And please explain to me how marketing improves product quality? Explain why Pharma spends more on marketing than they do on R&D and how that results in newer and better drugs. Can’t wait to hear this one.

      1. The “China doesn’t innovate” argument isn’t going to hold up much longer. They are the world’s manufacturing powerhouse and all the money that that muscle generates is going to eventualy end up fueling R&D. Just look at the transformation the last 20 years has brought. They went from making cheap bamboo boxes and silk fabric to being the tech manufacturing center, making the highest quality goods for companies like Apple.

        Unless the government enters another round of repression, they’ll be a tough competitor at every level in the coming decades, including pharma and other “intellectual” properties.

        1. No, they are the tech assembly center. Cutting edge processes are not in China. The SoC’s are manufactured in the US, Korea, Taiwan. The latter is close to China but still isn’t it. China’s chip fabs are nodes behind the leaders and they’re not catching up. SMIC is a failure on life support if it even still exists. I haven’t heard anything about it for a while so I don’t know for sure. The same applies to all of the real value add components.

          China may turn that around, but I submit that their lack of IP enforcement is a real problem for domestic innovation in addition to foreign tech infusions. We’ve certainly seen no indication that their lose policy has resulted in exploding innovation like OM seems to think will happen. Who wants to give away their IP to a country that blatantly disregards global IP law. And don’t think that foreign firms haven’t woken up to the vastly oversold market opportunity that China supposedly is. Now that Chinese labor is expensive they are definitely reevaluating their strategies.

          1. People don’t want to be slaves, and when you lose (or never possessed) the unique products of your mind and the ability to protect them from thieves and pirates (locally, with a gun in necessary; and internationally, through treaties) then you are a slave.

            Of course, most people are not creators. They are the beneficiaries of others’ hard work and creative genius. And then there are thieves and pirates, the true parasites. Anti-IP means pro thief, pro pirate, pro parasite.

  9. Maybe Steve Jobs did not invent this jerkery, but he certainly made it popular.

  10. Ok, a couple of things here.

    Anything that says FU to seacrest cant be all bad.

    A company blatantly stealing another companies ideas, tech, design etc isn’t innovating. If they were innovative they would have taken this idea and not gone to great lengths to look like another companies product by creating their own unique design.

    Ok and on markets, yes patents and their ilk can be bad for innovation but allowing any ham fisted moron to blatantly steal ideas from more clever or hard working people is equally bad for markets because it removes much of the incentive to spend resources on research and design.

  11. You know I have to wonder. Did BlackBerry even try to approach Typo with a deal, or did they just go straight to the lawyers ? This could have been a big advertising win for them. Blackberry could have cut a deal and put out a PR piece about how they support innovation in small start up companies, or hired someone to write a hit piece telling consumers that their competitors design is so bad someone had to come along and make it like a BlackBerry.

    1. Better yet did Seacrest and co approach Blackberry for licensing options before deciding to appropriate their brand?

      1. Good question. Some sort of deal could have been reached. Now that they are both in court, and depending on which side you may be rooting for they both look like dicks. Negative press for both sides.

  12. I have to wonder what features of the BlackBerry keyboard were unique enough to warrant a design patent, let alone a technology patent, since membrane type keyboards with square keys have been around at least since the first portable digital calculators were marketed in the early 70’s.

    1. When you look at the crap the USPTO awards, you won’t wonder. I know the examiners are overworked, but there is an immense amount of crap that should be invalidated by prior art. Even in my relatively niche field I see competitors (and us) patenting stuff that I as an “expert” cannot distinguish.

      1. I actually do have some familiarity with such outrageous patents in the somewhat unusual context of paintball, which is an industry I have both worked and played in. A patent for one of the earliest electronic paintball guns was interpreted so broadly that it literally covers any device that can launch projectiles using compressed gas that uses an electronic switch. It was not only granted, but successfully amended and defended in court, despite the fact that a US Navy patent from the early 1970’s for an electronic compressed gas launcher should have invalidated virtually all of the broader claims in the patent. Some courtroom drama involving ownership of the IP in question eventually resulted in a multi-party settlement that rendered the important parts of the patent largely harmless within the industry, but it was never successfully challenged on grounds of prior art or obviousness, either of which should have vacated most of the claims, and should have prevented the amendments that allowed it to be interpreted so broadly in the first place.

        1. I should mention that even within the paintball industry there was copious prior art; the patent in question was filed 3-4 years after the first electronic guns were created by hobbyists and boutique shops. The particulars of its operation did make the patented design unique as a complete product, but not with regard to the electronic components used or the general principles of launching a paintball using electronic components. The entire thing should have been laughed out of court from the get go.

  13. Or gosh, golly gee you could just get a T-Mobile Samsung Relay 4g with a slide out keyboard and not have to put up with Apple’s virtual keyboard bullshit.

    Fucking myopic Applefanboys and Blackberry Canuckistaners … both can go to hell in a handbasket together.

    1. True as that is, the idea that something as generic as a membrane keyboard on a phone could be patented at this stage in technology history is fairly silly.

      1. Indeed that’s silly, but it’s unlikely that this is what the claims cover.

        1. According to the links within the article, the claims are based at least in part on:

          “…the top engagement surface of at least some of the depressible keys has a generally inclined crest shape…”

          And

          “…?the keyboard comprises a keyfield comprising a plurality of depressible keys arranged in rows that are distributed about a vertical centerline of the keyboard and each of the depressible keys… has a generally inclined crest shape.”

          The practicality of the matter is they apparently got a design patent issued based on something as retardedly generic as rounding the tops of their keys and aligning the keys in rows about a vertical centerline. If there’s no prior art for that after 50 years of membrane keypads and keyboards being used on everything from car door locks to security keypads to cell phones to PDAs to TV remote controls, I’d be stupefied, leaving aside the question of whether something that generic should even be patentable in the first place.

          1. You need to look at the entire claim, not just an excerpt.

  14. I just find it interesting that I’ve finally come across an article where the reason commenters seem to be split on the issue. I for one believe that the Reason writers are on the wrong side of the issue (doesn’t happen often). I believe that innovation must be rewarded, but of course in a balanced manner. Innovators shouldn’t hold a monopoly for longer than what’s reasonable, but nor should their innovations be immediately able to be copied by manufacturers – therefore removing the monetary reason to innovate. I’m just surprised that my normally accurate Libertarian compass differs to the Authors on this issue over the past few days as it seems like a pretty clear argument for free markets to reward ability and effort, not to allow free-riders to steal/copy these ideas.

  15. Patents do force innovation, but only for products not similar to the original patent. So revolutionary products are more likely to occur as less money is focused on a product line that has already been patented. The issue is that it drastically limits evolutionary products. And most innovation is evolutionary. And with synergistic attitudes towards product development (especially in hi-tech), the lines begin to blur between revolutionary and evolutionary. This is the reason why our patent laws should be adjusted.

  16. I really do not get much of the Libertarian push against intellectual property rights.

    Just to get this out of the way: the false claim to push the argument, that Blackberry is the only full keyboard option. visit your carrier’s shop and you will see half a dozen such.

    Now, let me put it this way: 12 years ago, I got my first cell phone… and that’s all it was, was a phone. It had to capability other than dialing another line and storing a handful of contacts through a laborious process.

    Nowadays, I have a 3″ x 6″ magical device on my hip that I can run my business on.

    The incremental advances that made this possible, in such a short time, would not have been, were it not for certain guarantees that it be possible to reap the rewards or even garner an even return on the effort/time/money that it took to create such. Sorry for such a wordy statement.

    Patent reform, Yes. Patent abolition, No.

    As Uncle Teddy once told me regarding principle: “mathematically, the speed of the center of a turning wheel is zero” and yet it turns.

    1. So principle isn’t everything.

      Government sucks. So less, but not NO government.

      Commies believe that to withhold such advances are selfish and a personal indulgence. What’s with this self-interest? To the gulag with you…

    2. It’s your belief that patents contributed substantially to the mobile computing revolution. But are you omniscient?

      Software patents have caused lots of documented problems and seem to be unnecessary. The same may be true for some categories of patents in biology.

      Altogether, it looks like there are at least some areas where patents should be abolished, and where they don’t even exist elsewhere.

      And whether there are any areas left where in 2014 patents still make sense is at least debatable. You don’t know the answer to that any more than I or anybody else. And new technologies like 3D printing are going to change the equation yet again.

  17. There’s lots wrong with the patent system, and Blackberry’s patents in this case may not be good ones.

    But Typo really did this to themselves: they produced a blatant copy of the Blackberry keyboard and its distinctive appearance. There was no need to do that: they could have produced the same product and just made it look a little different.

    I think Typo is a bad poster boy for patents causing problems for innovators.

    Another reason why this is a rather ironic story is because the reason Typo needs to produce a crappy add-on keyboard for iPhones is because the on-screen iPhone keyboard sucks so badly: Apple’s lack of innovation and their restrictive policies. If you really want an Android phone with hardware keyboard, you can get it. The reason there aren’t a lot of those anymore is because Android’s on-screen keyboards have gotten so good that nobody needs them anymore.

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