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

The continuing saga of the Typo Keyboard Case.


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!

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.