Before the rise of iPhones and Androids, BlackBerrys were one of the most popular phones on the market. Boasting full web browsers, email inboxes, and intricate messaging applications, the Blackberrys were the go-to choice for corporate employees as well as social media enthusiasts. Though Blackberry is now playing catch up with Apple and Google, with only totaling 850,000 mobile units sold during 2017, Blackberry was once a pioneer in the mobile application industry amassing quite an impressive portfolio of patents. The phone maker is now taking a different kind of offensive against some of the larger companies including Facebook and Snapchat. BlackBerry is accusing Snap and Facebook of infringing multiple patents issued to them between 2012 and 2014.
A utility patent application, used for protecting the function of your invention, expires twenty years from filing the application while a design patent, used for protecting the appearance and shape of your invention, expires fifteen years after the application is granted. This gives Blackberry a strong foothold in an industry where having an exclusive right to any technology for even a year can prove very valuable.
Some of the patents Blackberry believes the companies that are infringing are a “patent describing improvements in message notification techniques that streamline and optimize reception of new message notifications, and (ii) display of timestamps in a messaging user interface that provides users with appropriate temporal context for their communications without overtaking the users screen with unnecessary information.” This patent can be better understood as the timestamps next to a users name while sending messages to show what time the message was sent and long it has been since the last message was received. Blackberry is also claiming Snapchat’s Snap Map infringed on their patent for improved mapping techniques to establish and maintain real-time activity location information. This patent deals with displaying fellow registered user locations engaged in activities overlaid on a map at their respective real-world location based on the number of photos or videos at the location.
Blackberry will most likely settle with Facebook and Snap out of court or produce a licensing deal to please their investors and to fund future endeavors. When the settlement dollar amount comes out you are probably wondering should I patent my mobile application? Patent eligibility is determined by proving your patent has utility, is novel, and is non-obviousness. The first requirement of utility is determined by first answering, is the invention is an abstract idea, and second, does the invention provide an inventive concept or something extra. The patent office looks to see if your invention is an improvement to what is already known and not abstract idea whereby you are using a general-purpose computer or phone to provide something that is of ordinary and customary use in the real world. For an example if your application merely was creating a contractual relationship between two parties using a computer system it would most likely not be patentable. Also, if the application was merely collecting information, analyzing it, and displaying certain results of the collection and analysis, the application would meet similar problems.
The Blackberry patent applications, on the other hand, are improving a specific function on their mobile application, such as providing a better user interface for the user to view text message time retrievals and improving map navigation for display to the user by using retrieved data from fellow registered users. Blackberry is not only collecting, analyzing, and transmitting data, they are using it to improve the mobile experience for the user. The next step is to make sure your patent is and novel and non-obvious. For this to happen you have to make sure there are no patents, publications, products sold, or generally well-known products anywhere in the world that describes all elements of your invention or describes enough of your invention that it would be obvious for one of ordinary skill in the art to be able to create your invention. If you’re confident that your application does have utility, is novel, and is non-obvious then it’s time to begin the patent application process. If you are not 100% certain then a patent search opinion is highly recommended.