#161: BlackBerry's ghost 
BlackBerry, your friendly local patent troll


BlackBerry is an empty shell, and it's suing Facebook

What do you do when you're out of ideas, you've sold your core business to a third-party manufacturer and you've got a bunch of patents lying around? Sue someone, of course. 

BlackBerry dropped an enormous patent lawsuit on Facebook this week, claiming that it invented many of messaging's core user paradigms. This includes showing timestamps in a chat thread, playing games via messaging, tagging people in photos and even showing notification counts inside a red dot. 

If that's not confusing enough, it's unclear why BlackBerry targeted Facebook in the first place — given Apple and Google adopt almost all of these things at an operating system level too.

The once legendary BlackBerry brand is now reduced to a patent troll. The company sits on a war chest of about 7,000 patents, coming in tenth on the IEEE's 'Patent Power' list — Facebook comes in third.

In 2017, Forbes reported that BlackBerry was looking to 'monetize' its patents through licensing, which is what this lawsuit hopes to do by pushing Facebook into capitulating, rather than endure a long, expensive lawsuit process. BlackBerry had tried for "years" to get Facebook to pay for licenses before going down this route.

This strategy actually works for BlackBerry. It got Cisco to pay on a regular basis in 2015, but sets a dangerous precedent given the scale of what it holds. Facebook, for its part, says it'll fight — and I hope so for our sake, as the company rightfully calls it a "tax on innovation."

Software patents are troublesome because of lawsuits like this, and many countries have moved to ban them or make them significantly harder to acquire in an attempt to kill off fraudulent lawsuits. The nature of software is such that proving your innovation is original, or worth patenting — like messaging as a patentable concept — is difficult.

This lawsuit may be a long, painful one, if it isn't thrown out immediately. But it's also a reminder that companies with mounds of patents, even with the best of intentions, may eventually weaponize them.

🌎 Read the full story on Ars Technica

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#161: BlackBerry's ghost