Can there be a better way to start 2014 than with a patent infringement story with a Canadian twist? BlackBerry has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Typo Products LLC. If you are a believer in the maxim that “the only thing worse than bad press is no press” then you would see this as a boon for Typo, which has garnered attention just in time for CES 2014. A Google search for “BlackBerry keyboard patent” now displays pictures of a smiling Ryan Seacrest, a co-founder of Typo. Typo sells a slide-on physical keyboard for the iPhone 5, and the layout does looks suspiciously similar to a BlackBerry keyboard.
The question from an IP law perspective is whether BlackBerry can claim patent protection for a keyboard. Isn’t a keyboard just a keyboard? After all, the QWERTY keyboard has been around since it was invented by Christopher Sholes in the late 1800s (the design at right). In fact there are hundreds of keyboard patents, and BlackBerry owns a number of issued patents for keyboard design, for both utility and design patents, including the US patent “Ramped-key keyboard for a handheld mobile communication device” US8449208 (image at left). An new improvement on the basic QWERTY design can indeed be protectable, either through a utility or design patent. Whether this particular patent infringement case proceeds, or is settled, it illustrates the uses of patent and industrial design to protect incremental improvements to existing technology. Stay tuned.