Since the announcement of the Typo keyboard there has been plenty of discussion surrounding it and now that BlackBerry has filed a lawsuit against Typo Products LLC and Ryan Seacrest for what they regard as 'blatant infringement against BlackBerry's iconic keyboard' the conversation has only ramped up even further. For you or I to look at it, it seems all too obvious that there's some direct copying going on there but things can (and often do) get trickier when you look at it all from a legal perspective.

Looking to address some of the legal perspective is Q. Todd Dickinson, former Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and current Executive Director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association who sat down recently with Business in Canada to take a further at the lawsuit. It's an interesting read; you'll find some highlights below.

According to Dickinson, ”BlackBerry’s going to have to prove that the device the defendant has put on the market infringes on one of its patents” ottherwise known as burden of proof. There is 2 claims highlighted by Dickinson in the article, Claims 1 and 9 that may serve as “broad claims” and help with determining if any patents were infringed.

  • Claim 1: …each of the depressible keys has a top engagement surface of which an upper inboard portion is raised relative to a lower outboard portion thereof, wherein the top engagement surface of at least some of the depressible keys has a generally inclined crest shape…
  • Claim 9:  …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 top engagement surface of which an upper inboard portion is raised relative a lower outboard portion thereof, wherein the top engagement surface of at least some of the depressible keys has a generally inclined crest shape with a top of the crest diagonally oriented on the key.

The image depicts BlackBerry’s “sculpted keys”, which appear to be similar (though not identical) to its more recent designs. For instance, there is no space between the keys on current models, and the precise curvature of the keys appears to have been altered, as well. But, according to Mr. Dickinson, those details don’t matter. ”Whatever BlackBerry is currently selling doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “The whole issue will be whether what the defendant’s product is versus the wording of these claims.”

Additionally, BlackBerry has included several other complaints in the filing and as expected, have broken it down to very specific items. From the complaint:

  • a keyboard with an overall symmetrical design around the vertical center line, comprising several horizontal dividing bars above rows of sculpted keys, the last of which is rounded on the bottom edge;
  • several horizontal bars in contrasting color and finish set above horizontal rows of keys;
  • several top rows of roughly square shaped keys having little horizontal space between them;
  • a bottom row of roughly rectangular shaped keys having curved bottoms edges and little horizontal space between them;
  • keys with planar areas away from the vertical center line of the keyboard and sculpted curves closer to the center line;
  • one larger rectangular key in the center of the bottom row having a u- shaped planar area; and
  • keys having distinct lettering or graphical icons printed on the surface.

And finally, there's some arguably less obvious information that may help BlackBerry in their case. The plain and simply fact that Typo and even Seacrest himself made no bones about comparing their offering to that of BlackBerry's. Several comments made to media outlets and even Typo's own Twitter account often references the similarities to the BlackBerry keyboard. 

You can head over to Business in Canada for the full article but for me, this particular comment is what stood out. “The law firm that represents BlackBerry, Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart, & Sullivan, is a very powerful, important firm – they’re not going to fool around here.” - that's exactly what BlackBerry needs right now so I'm glad they're prepared.