BlackBerry moves to block sales of Typo keyboard

Typo claims co-founder Ryan Seacrest designed the keyboard to replace his BlackBerry

BlackBerry has asked a California court to block U.S. sales of the Typo keyboard, an add-on keyboard for the iPhone that BlackBerry says is an "obvious knock-off" of the keyboards on its phones.

The move, which came late Wednesday, intensifies a battle between the two companies that began in January this year when BlackBerry accused Typo of patent infringement. The lawsuit garnered considerable attention, in part because Typo was co-founded by popular U.S. radio and television personality Ryan Seacrest.

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The keyboard is designed to slip onto an iPhone 5 or 5S to provide a physical keyboard. The $99 device is currently available for pre-order through the company's website, which advertises it has already sold out of an unspecified number of keyboards for January and February delivery.

Such keyboards have been a main selling point of BlackBerry devices since the company was making radio pagers and despite the recent popularity of on-screen virtual keyboards, there remains many users who value a physical keyboard.

BlackBerry alleges infringement of two patents: U.S. Design Patent 685,775 and U.S. Patent 7,629,964. The former covers the design elements of a "handheld electronic device" and the latter "an electronic device with keyboard optimized for use with the thumbs."

BlackBerry is asking the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to prohibit Typo from "making, using, offering to sell, or selling within the United States, or importing into the United States, the Typo Keyboard."

"Typo's blatant copying of BlackBerry's keyboard presents an imminent threat of irreparable harm to BlackBerry, and that threat is magnified in combination with the significant market power of the iPhone," BlackBerry said in a proposed motion to the court.

Seacrest comes up in the BlackBerry motion. The company notes he was a well-known, long-time user of BlackBerry devices and cites interviews where he said that the inspiration for the keyboard was trying to bring together the best of the BlackBerry typing experience with everything else an iPhone had to offer.

The motion also cites several reviews that note the visual similarity between the Typo and BlackBerry keyboards.

In response to BlackBerry's proposed motion, Typo said it believes BlackBerry's claims "lack merit and we intend to defend the case vigorously."

The comment repeats, almost word for word, a portion of a statement the company issued earlier in January when the lawsuit was first filed.

For BlackBerry, the issue is perhaps about more than just the visual similarities.

The company has been struggling to keep up with the fast pace of change being driven by Apple and Android phones and recently regrouped to focus more tightly on the government, military and enterprise customer.

That's the company's core business audience and the users that value a physical keyboard the most. If comparable keyboards become add-on accessories to Apple and Android phones, it would be more difficult for BlackBerry to compete.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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