BlackBerry sues Ryan Seacrest-backed company over iPhone keyboard accessory (Updated)

A day after recording artist Alicia Keys saw her contract as BlackBerry ‘creative director’ expire, the Waterloo-based handset maker has filed a lawsuit against an accessory company cofounded by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest over a patent dispute, WSJ reports.

“This is a blatant infringement against BlackBerry’s iconic keyboard, and we will vigorously protect our intellectual property against any company that attempts to copy our unique design,” BlackBerry said in a statement.

While the keyboard accessory does resemble that of BlackBerry’s own handsets, it’s certainly an interesting stand to take against a startup company as even BlackBerry’s own smartphones are trending toward touch screen user interfaces and built-in keyboards have all but lost in popularity. Typo Products, LLC, the company in which Seacrest reportedly invested $1 million and is listed as a founder, lists the keyboard accessory as $99 on its website and currently says shipping will begin this month…

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For its part, BlackBerry insists the keyboard is too similar to the keyboard equipped on many of its smartphones, according to Steve Zipperstein, BlackBerry’s General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer:

From the beginning, BlackBerry has always focused on offering an exceptional typing experience that combines a great design with ergonomic excellence. We are flattered by the desire to graft our keyboard onto other smartphones, but we will not tolerate such activity without fair compensation for using our intellectual property and our technological innovations.

Whether or not it’s patent infringement, few would predict the declining smartphone maker would start out 2014 defending its physical keyboard technology against a pop culture icon such as Ryan Seacrest.

Dismiss the App Store and integrated-Apple services and BlackBerry may have a concern over lost sales, but a $99 keyboard accessory is probably the least of BlackBerry’s concerns.

Update: Typo Products provided the following statement to Mashable:
“We are aware of the lawsuit that Blackberry filed today against Typo Products. Although we respect Blackberry and its intellectual property, we believe that Blackberry’s claims against Typo lack merit and we intend to defend the case vigorously.  We are excited about our innovative keyboard design, which is the culmination of years of development and research.  The Typo keyboard has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response from the public.  We are also looking forward to our product launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week and remain on track to begin shipping pre-orders at the end of January.”

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  1. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    Who would make such an idiotic device? The tiny keys were never good for typing to begin with…its just what existed at the time. I can type much faster and more fluidly with iOS’ keyboard than I ever could with any physical phone keyboard. There is no comparison. And Yes I can even type perfectly without looking at the phone while typing (yet you’d be hard pressed to come with a legitimate reason why you’d ever need to do that).

    • Clint (@ClintAustin26) - 9 years ago

      I’m with you, but there are still a lot of BB diehards out there (ok, maybe “a lot” is pushing it) that prefer the tactile nature of a physical keyboard. I don’t blame Blackberry for going after it, but the fact that they feel threatened by such a niche product just shows how far they’ve fallen. It’s hardly the first keyboard case to be made for iPhone. They’re basically grasping at straws now.

      • Marley Fernandes - 9 years ago

        Well as a blackberry old user, i feel like blackberry is doing a god job, suing the guy and the company, for the same reason apple has the rights to sue samsung over old devices that are no even in stores anymore, the same goes for blackberry, regardless of their financial or popularity status. i’ve used blackberry in the past and then switch to the iPhone, and finally now i’m on android, but honestly, the keyboard was and is still one of the main features of a blackberry device, so i think it’s a disrespect for someone like “him” for example to create something that is completely similar to what blackberry makes, even i would sue him.

  2. Gary Lum - 9 years ago

    As much as I love my iPhone and iPad for texting and typing my work BlackBerry wins hands down. I’d like the key feel and functionality of the BlackBerry with my iPhone.

  3. myke2241 - 9 years ago

    i don’t think this a smart move by BB. BB should just buy the startup and take a slice of that market. i mean its not like they have much going for them. and what does BB seriously think they are going to get out of this? positive PR…

    • Mark McKee - 9 years ago

      Positive PR like Apple suing Samsung every 5 mins?
      Blackberry has as much right as Apple does to protect what is theirs!!!

  4. telecastle - 9 years ago

    This is about the only way that Blackberry can make any money nowadays – through law suits. Non one buys their products anymore. Perhaps, they should start making a keyboard case accessory for the iPhone and various Androids and direct their loyal customer base to buy that accessory and switch to iOS or Android. They won’t need to invest any more money in software or phone hardware development, lay off 95% of their employees and make the company profitable once again.

  5. Really? So the Blackberry X10 or Z10 or whtever that looks exactly like a freaking iPhone isn’t the same kind of blatant infringement? At first glance, the chiclet keys look alike. But if you look at Seacrest’s company’s version, there’s a lot more innovation going on there especially on the bottom row. Is RIM that desperate to lose even more money in a frivolous lawsuit they can’t hope to win? So funny!

  6. I saw this coming miles away!

  7. Ezra - 9 years ago

    How is the first sentence related to this entire article? “A day after recording artist Alicia Keys saw her contract as BlackBerry ‘creative director’ expire”

  8. I can see the obvious resemblance, I guess it’s a question of whether that design is something that can be trademarked. Lawsuit aside, I don’t think this product has any viability. I also think it would throw the balance of the phone off and any improvement in typing would be offset by trying to balance the phone. It just looks like a bad idea.

  9. Blackberry keyboard? lol soooo yesterday. Imagine all those resources just for suing over something that is absolutely worthless. No wonder the iPhone updates over the years are so non-imaginative and uncreative, they don’t need to do anything amazing because the competition is so many light years behind.

  10. “We are excited about our innovative keyboard design, which is the culmination of years of development and research.”

    Maybe it was a few too many years of development and research…. could have been 2009’s killer product of the year for all the whiners who never thought touch screen keyboards would catch on.

  11. pinova - 9 years ago

    Blackberry’s keyboard is patently unique in which specifics?
    The non-offset key arrangement? Bzzt! Study the early history of computer keyboards to kill that idea?
    Querty? Bzzt.
    Size? Bzzt.
    Exact, precise layout? Sorry, there are differences in the Typo layout.
    Which leaves what? Dome shape on top of each key? C’mon…

  12. I use a BlackBerry, and also have a Retina Mac Book Pro and an iPod touch, so I appreciate what products from both BlackBerry and Apple offer. I’ve always sided with Apple in the Apple v. Samsung lawsuits, and with this lawsuit I side with BlackBerry.

    Take one look at the BlackBerry Q10, then look at what Typo has done with its product. Had this been Apple’s keyboard that Samsung ripped off so blatantly, people around here would be going crazy.

    Whether you love or hate physical keyboards or BlackBerry as a brand, copying is copying. And to people who think this is some ploy by BlackBerry to make money: get real. BlackBerry has never been known to be a patent troll. BlackBerry rarely ever sue anyone for anything, and have let countless qwerty devices from other manufacturers be released without a lawsuit. They’re equally just as careful with what they do, even changing the name of “BBX” to “BlackBerry 10” after some other company had legal rights to it.

    Ryan Seacrest seems like a smart man. How he could get involved with something that’s so clearly a ripoff of something else is beyond me. The good news for him is that the million dollars he invested in Typo LLC and whatever damages he’ll pay are pocket change to him.


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.