Thursday, December 2, 2010

If you’re in the platform business, as RIM is, you need to be willing to tolerate a certain amount of competition for the core applications on the platform. It just goes with the territory.  That’s why I think that RIM are getting bad advice with respect to alleged patent infringer Kik Interactive.

If you’re not aware of what is going on, the facts, as I’ve been able to determine are:

  • Kik Interactive CEO Ted Livingston was employed, as a student, by RIM in 2007 and 2008.  He even worked on the BlackBerry Messenger team.
  • Livingston signed a number of legal documents that control his behaviour after leaving RIM.  Who knows what the term on those documents are, but like most employers, RIM likely asked for confidentiality and other legal terms.
  • Kik signed a BlackBerry developers agreement, which gives access to RIM developers tools and API’s but imposes restrictions on the developer.
  • When Kik first approached RIM, it was as a music sharing service.  Now they offer a competitor to BlackBerry messenger.
  • Kik was in the BlackBerry store, and then removed, because of Terms of Service violations.  RIM alleges that the way in which Kik uses the address book on a BlackBerry violates both RIM’s own guidelines and privacy laws.
  • Kik claims that their ability to deliver messages quickly to BlackBerry users, via the BlackBerry push technology, was disabled by RIM.  I am not sure if this is true, as I’ve certainly been using it with BlackBerry users I know.
  • In addition, RIM has now filed suit for patent violation, and trademark infringement.   Kik used the name BlackBerry on their website, and made statements comparing themselves to BlackBerry Messenger.

So Livingston may be in violation of his employment agreement, in violation of his BlackBerry developers agreement, and may have infringed RIM’s intellectual property. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he didn’t go into business with the intent of picking a legal fight with RIM. Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that RIM has a case (and it sounds as if they may well have).

  • RIM’s scorched earth tactics – patent and trademark infringement suits, character assassination, and technical interference – are wholly disproportionate to the situation.  Those tactics amount to a corporate death sentence with RIM as judge, jury, and executioner.  No investor will touch Kik now, and all RIM has to do is wait for Kik to go under.
  • It’s hard to believe that there wasn’t a way for the two parties to work out an agreement of some kind.  Kik is located in the Waterloo Accelerator, a five minute stroll from RIM HQ.  Surely someone could have taken Ted Livingston out for a coffee before filing a suit.

RIM is a multi-billion dollar corporation. Kik is a tiny startup. When RIM crushes a start-up, as they are clearly doing here, they are sending a strong message to others in the development community, and to those who might wish to invest in companies targeting the RIM platform, about how they will behave in other cases.

It’s not a pretty message.

It will cause developers and investors to think twice about targeting BlackBerry, right when RIM needs all of the developer support it can get to fight Apple and Android.

It’s a dumb tactic, that RIM should rethink.

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