Keyboard design firm sues RIM over BlackBerry 7100

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

A New York company has sued BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) over the design of the keyboard on the BlackBerry 7100, claiming it holds a patent that covers the technology.

Eatoni Ergonomics Inc. has filed a lawsuit against RIM in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, it announced Wednesday. The company holds a patent that it claims covers mobile keyboards with a "QWERTY" design that use predictive text technology. "QWERTY" is another term for a standard typewriter or keyboard layout, referring to the first six letters on the upper left hand side of a keyboard.

The BlackBerry 7100 uses a predictive-text technology that RIM calls SureType to help eliminate typing errors and speed up letter entry when typing e-mail or text messages. Eatoni has developed similar technology called LetterWise and WordWise that attempts to guess the word a user is trying to enter using a mobile phone or QWERTY keypad.

The idea behind predictive text technology is to reduce the number of keystrokes needed to enter a word and improve spelling without having to resort to the text-message shorthand largely indecipherable to most people over the age of 30. Individual buttons on mobile phones can represent up to four separate letters. Although RIM's Blackberry 7100 uses a QWERTY layout, most of its buttons represent two letters.

Other mobile phone vendors use QWERTY keyboards on smart phones or wireless personal digital assistants, but Eatoni believes the BlackBerry 7100's combination of the QWERTY keyboard and the predictive text technology infringes upon its patents, the spokesman said.

A RIM spokeswoman had no immediate comment on Eatoni's lawsuit.

RIM's lawyers are no strangers to the court room of late. The company is defending itself against a separate patent suit filed by NTP Inc., which claims that the entire BlackBerry push e-mail system infringes on NTP's patents. That case has taken several twists and turns over the past few years. At present, RIM and NTP are preparing for a hearing in Virginia that will determine if NTP can be granted an injunction on sales of the BlackBerry devices, while at the same time NTP is appealing several decisions by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate NTP's patents.

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