‘You better not screw with us’: BlackBerry seeks new life from old patents to stem sales decline

Chief Executive Officer John Chen has hailed BlackBerry's vast library of patents as an untapped resource that will help him turn the company around.Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

BlackBerry Ltd., seeking ways to stem revenue declines, is dusting off its old patents and asking other companies to pay up for using technology BlackBerry claims it invented years ago.

The latest skirmish broke out on Tuesday, when BlackBerry sued Facebook Inc. in federal court in Los Angeles, claiming the social media giant has built swaths of its empire on messaging technology invented by the former smartphone maker when Mark Zuckerberg was still living in a Harvard University dorm room. The move might seem strange, especially at a time when smartphone messaging apps are ubiquitous and don’t seem to be all that different from one another.

But BlackBerry said it laid the foundation for the world of messaging apps now dominated by Facebook, China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Japan’s Line Corp. with its BBM app, which helped draw millions to the company’s phones in the mid-2000s. BlackBerry’s complaint claims the firm invented core aspects of modern messaging, such as notification icons, and when and how time stamps show up in a thread.