BlackBerry puts kibosh on Typo's iPhone keyboard

A settlement with Typo requires the Ryan Seacrest-backed company to discontinue selling keyboards for any device with a screen smaller than 7.9 inches.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

BlackBerry's design patent D685,775 covers the look of its keyboard, including the sculpted keys. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

BlackBerry got its way against an iPhone keyboard maker accused of patent infringement.

A settlement reached in the US District Court for Northern California puts an end to two January lawsuits filed by BlackBerry against Typo, a company that created a keyboard case that plugs into iPhones, giving users of Apple's popular smartphone the ability to use a physical keyboard.

The Typo device attracted widespread attention not only because of its design and function, but because it was backed by TV and radio celebrity Ryan Seacrest, best known as the host of the "American Idol" musical competition.

Under the settlement, announced Monday, Typo can no longer make keyboards for smartphones and mobile devices with a screen size less than 7.9 inches, which would account for the range of sizes in Apple's iPhone line. It can continue to sell keyboards for devices with a display of 7.9 inches or larger, which would restrict it to tablets, such as the iPad. Other terms of the settlement were confidential.

Apple's largest smartphone, the iPhone 6 Plus, has a 5.5-inch screen. The new iPad Mini 3, meanwhile, has a 7.9-inch screen.

Typo, BlackBerry argued in its lawsuits, had violated its patents by creating a keyboard accessory that looked too much like its own keyboards, complete with the familiar sculpted keys. In connection with Monday's settlement, BlackBerry has withdrawn the lawsuits.

BlackBerry has been struggling to regain some of its former stature in the mobile phone business by introducing new phones, such as the Passport , the Leap and the Classic . The company has always relied on its physical keyboards to distinguish its products from those made by rival smartphone makers, which by and large use virtual keyboards on the phone's screen. As such, BlackBerry wouldn't want to give iPhone users the ability to use a physical keyboard that looks like one of its own. Nor would it want consumers confusing an iPhone with a BlackBerry because of the keyboard.

Able to connect to an iPhone 5 or 5S, Typo's $99 iPhone keyboard made the rounds at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2014. Following the first peek at the accessory, BlackBerry almost immediately launched its lawsuit, accusing Typo of violating three US patents: 7,629,964; 8,162,552; and D685,775. In the suit, BlackBerry accused Typo of willfully misappropriating BlackBerry's trade dress, a legal term that refers to the way a product is packaged or presented.

"Typo has misappropriated BlackBerry's patented design in the accused Typo Keyboard," the lawsuit said. "An ordinary observer viewing the Typo Keyboard in the purchasing context would be deceived by its similarity to the D'775 patent design, and would be induced to purchase the Typo Keyboard believing it was the same design as BlackBerry's D'775 patent."

Typo was founded by Seacrest and CEO Laurence Hallier. The keyboard itself was invented by designer Ryan Hyde, the company's chief technology officer.

A spokesperson for BlackBerry declined CNET's request to comment on the lawsuit beyond the company's press release. Typo did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.