If I want to have a hamburger, I will buy a hamburger and not a burrito! If I want to buy a laptop PC, I will buy that and not a Kids Laptop! And, if I want to buy a BlackBerry, I will buy a BlackBerry and not an iPhone with a Typo cover that has a BlackBerry (BBRY) like keyboard attached to it!
Why am I saying all this? Well, with the statements I have tried to capture the essence of what Ryan Seacrest has to say against the lawsuit that BlackBerry has initiated against Typo Products.
Recently, Typo Products, co-founded by “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, launched a mobile phone case meant for the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5 and 5S which facilitates typing on the device by providing the users a physical keyboard, an alternative to the on-screen touch keyboard. The product was received by the general consumers with a good deal of excitement and within two months a total of 4,000 units have been sold. The good part ends here. The bad part is - BlackBerry decided to take Typo Products to the court and sue them for patent infringement.
(Picture credit: iPhonehacks.com)
What is BlackBerry’s point behind the suit?
The Canadian smartdevice maker has been attempting to repair the damage caused to its once-upon-a-time glorious reputation with its latest offerings – the Z10, Q5, Q10, Q30. The company has spent billions and invested hundreds of hours to come up with tempting looks and outstanding user experience for the devices and is not ready to compromise on the benefits resulting from their hard work. BlackBerry’s points are –
- the cases from Typo are exact rip-offs of the Q10 and as a result the general consumers may be misguided or mislead, resulting in irreparable loss for the company
- BBRY has patents on its designs and Typo clearly is violation of that
- Copying the design is an attempt to capitalize on the goodwill and brand awareness of BlackBerry
Through the lawsuit the company intends to restrict Typo Products from further selling of the patented keyboard designs and wants to take the entire profit that Typo has earned from the sale of the cases, as well damage compensation. The suit was filed last month and till now none of the allegations have been tested in the court.
What Typo has to say?
Typo Products came out with the iPhone accessory to help improve the typing experience of the iPhone users and automatically bag some good profits for itself. Little did it know it would get entangled in a lawsuit trouble! The company is of the opinion that consumers will never be confused between an iPhone keyboard case available for $99 and an actual BlackBerry handset which sells for $549. There is little doubt about physical resemblance also since the cases are meant for iPhones which have very different dimensions.
Ryan recently submitted a 26-page argument to California court against the preliminary injunction from sale of the cases. According to the filing, Typo feels BlackBerry is trying to secure a monopoly position on keyboards for any device. Typo also highlighted that small keyboards with nearly identical layouts have been around since 1980’s and thus any small QWERTY keyboard doesn’t become the intellectual property of BlackBerry. The case-maker feels that the cases will not result in irreparable loss to BlackBerry, damage BlackBerry’s image, mislead or misguide the consumers.
Why I don’t completely out rule Typo’s argument?
Typo’s argument that BlackBerry is trying to secure a monopoly position on keyboards for all devices can be very hard to prove in the court o f law. We haven’t ever seen BlackBerry sue Nokia or Samsung or any other phonemaker for using QWERTY keyboards of their devices. BlackBerry has patents on designs and keyboard technology and had Typo paid for the rights to use the same, it would have avoided the suit. However, Typo’s claim that its actions haven’t resulted in any damage to the company can’t be ruled out completely.
BlackBerry has a very different target audience than that of Apple, Samsung (SSNLF) or other players using the Google (GOOG) Android OS. While these players are competing against each other in the smartphone space, BlackBerry is eying the corporate enterprises. The Canadian phonemaker is not just focusing on offering smartphones, rather is focusing on offering an integrated, safe and secured host of services. This being clear, it is also clear that the target audiences of the Typo cases and of that of BlackBerry are not the same. BlackBerry users can’t use the cases on the BlackBerry devices and thus BlackBerry is not going to suffer from loss of sale.
Secondly, the cases will only be bought by existing users of the iPhone and not new prospective buyers of BlackBerry. One who is looking to buy a BlackBerry will not go and buy an iPhone with the Typo case. If the buyer is looking for a BlackBerry, he is probably seeking one for the service it provides and for what it is as a device. So, just because the Typo cover can give an iPhone a BlackBerry like feel, the buyer will not buy it. From within an iPhone and a BlackBerry device are very different. So, there is not point about getting confused or being misguided.
Thirdly, general audience who are not looking to buy a BlackBerry or an iPhone or any phone for that matter, if they see an iPhone in a Typo case and misunderstand that to be a BlackBerry, that’s good in a way for the Canadian phone maker – free publicity.
To drive home the discussion, Typo doesn’t pose as a threat to BlackBerry nor has it cause any significant irreparable damage to BlackBerry’s reputation. Typo nevertheless should have got the necessary rights and approvals from BlackBerry before coming out with the disputed cases. However, failure on Typo’s part in doing so doesn’t mean BlackBerry should claim all of its profits; sue the company for damages and seek injunction from future sales. Instead, BlackBerry should ask for a fine for not getting approval from them before commencing sales and should ask Typo to get the approvals now by paying for the same. BlackBerry’s reputation hasn’t been tampered with nor has it lost sales or suffered any other material damage. The company should shake hands and let this pass with a fine and a smile if possible.