BlackBerry's apparent foray into fingerprint IDs could backfire

RIM's patent applications show an interest in touchpad-based fingerprint identification, but the technology's checkered past and the BlackBerry's slow OS could combine for a bad result

RIM's BlackBerry smartphones are well known for their impressive security safeguards, built into both Research in Motion's handheld software that actually runs on the devices and its associated BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) corporate mail server. But if a recently filed U.S. patent application is any indicator of what's to come, RIM just may be adding another key security feature to some of its smartphones: a fingerprint scanner built into the new BlackBerry "trackpad."

At first, the idea sounds like a great one -- and it certainly could prove to be a valued addition to RIM's BlackBerry product line. But a little red flag popped up in my head as soon as heard about the idea. I'll get to why soon enough, but first, here's some additional information on the recently filed patent application ... errr, extension.

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RIM filed a patent application titled "Apparatus and method of input and finger print recognition on a handheld electronic device" in May 2004, and a related patent was granted years later in April 2009, according to United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) filings. So RIM has clearly been toying with the idea of working fingerprint-scanning into the BlackBerry for some time.

The new application (#10849928) appears to be a "continuation" of this related patent, and it introduces a new, touchpad-based method of fingerprint scanning. From the patent text:


This patent application relates to mobile communication techniques in general, and to an apparatus and method of input and fingerprint recognition on a handheld electronic device in particular.


Touchpads are known techniques of computer input. A touchpad has a flat surface capable of producing a signal when the flat surface is touched with a finger.

Fingerprint recognition is a known technique of biometric systems, utilized for recognizing the identity of a person based on physiological characteristics.

Both techniques are typically not provided simultaneously in handheld electronic devices. Although touchpads and fingerprint devices are common, touchpads may have very low resolution, and may use an interpretive algorithm to increase the apparent resolution, whereas fingerprint devices may have very high resolution. The limited surface area of a handheld electronic device may exclude the use of both touchpads and fingerprint devices simultaneously.

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