Battle Over Messenger App: Blackberry v. Kik
In the latest chapter of the downward spiral of Research in Motion (RIM), inventors of the Blackberry and pioneers of the smart phone market, the company has settled with rival Kik Interactive in a patent infringement suit filed in 2010. Kik Interactive, founded by Ted Livingston, a former Research in Motion employee, had developed a chat app based heavily on the Blackberry messenger, adopting some of its hallmark features such as the ability to tell when a message has been sent, delivered, and read. Blackberry had long refused the chance to adopt its innovative messenger onto other mobile platforms. It is now apparent that that decision was ill-advised. Through its compatibility with multiple platforms, Kik has gradually gained market share, now surpassing the original Blackberry messenger with 90 million app users to Blackberry’s 60 million. Blackberry has since made its messenger compatible across platforms, but this may be too little too late for the smart phone pioneer.
Though many other factors contributed to the decline of the Blackberry, a refusal to adapt to the rapidly changing market for smart phones has been a central failure. Livingston himself commented on the ingenuity of the Blackberry messenger, one of the main selling points of the phone. According to Livingston, even if Research in Motion had just spun off its chat app segment, that segment alone could have thrived. Instead, Blackberry chose to keep its prized app tied to its own platform and elected to go the litigation route to stabilize the ship. The company began by freezing Kik out of the Blackberry app store in November 2010 and by disabling Kik push access, leading to delayed messages for Kik users on Blackberry phones.
The lawsuit itself, filed November 30, 2010 in Canadian court, alleged that Kik had made patent, trademark, privacy, and Confidentiality Agreement violations in marketing their messenger app. It alleged that Livingston formed Kik using proprietary knowledge immediately after leaving his job as Technical Product Management Coordinator for Blackberry Messenger. In marketing this new app, Kik then made “false and misleading” statements that led to confusion in the market. The suit asked for relief from the court in the form of injunctions and damages, including disgorgement of profits. As the market progressed, these hopes became increasingly unrealistic for the troubled RIM.
In the ensuing three years, Kik’s popularity has soared, while RIM, mired in a series of lawsuits and facing dismal sales numbers, looks to be near collapse. At this point in the game, a settlement looks to be the smart move for both parties. It ends a major headache for RIM, which may not have the resources to continue a fight with a company that, irrespective of technology similarities, has completely outmaneuvered it in the mobile messenger market. Though the terms of the agreement are undisclosed, Kik appears to have gotten out of this litigation with its messenger intact. Blackberry’s prospects, on the other hand, may have just taken another hit.