RIM’s Battle against the Kik Messenger App Hits the Courts

BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM) recently pulled the Kik Messenger app from its BlackBerry App World and then took the drastic action of preventing the company behind Kik from developing BlackBerry apps anymore. All RIM has had to say so far about the situation is that it pulled the Kik app because of a breach of contract. Kik released a statement saying that it hopes that the reason it has been pulled is not because of similarities between the messaging app and RIM’s own BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).  Now RIM is suing Kik over patent infringement.

Court filing number T-1996-10, which names Research In Motion and Kik Interactive, was filed yesterday on November 30th, 2010 in Federal Court in Toronto. (RIM is a Canadian company.) All the court documents online right now list is “Patent Infringement” and no other details but Reuters managed to get its hands on some court filings from the case already and is reporting that the real reason behind RIM’s drastic actions.

RIM is alleging that three different patents are infringed by Kik. Interestingly, Kik Interactive’s CEO and founder is a past RIM employee who worked as a systems engineer until the end of 2008. Did he steal RIM’s technology behind BBM and put it into Kik? We’ll have to see how this plays out in court. RIM also alleges that Kik collected user contact information and used it to spam people to get them to join the messenger service.

Kik claims to have a million BlackBerry users (at least until RIM locked the app out of its push messaging system and stopped distributing it) and 1.5 million users on other platforms like iOS and Android. That was the real appeal of Kik—none of your friends needed to have a BlackBerry to get BBM-like instant messages. While Apple is making progress with its FaceTime video calling on iOS, RIM’s BlackBerry still has the advantage with instant messaging. In fact, it was not until iOS 4 that the iPhone even received the ability to multitask.

RIM has spent a lot of money making sure its BBM service is top-notch and has even started featuring its messaging system in some of its recent television advertisements. Think Kik is different enough from BBM to win this lawsuit? Besides just the interface, the court will also be looking at the technology behind the messenger app. That’s where things could get tricky.

Think RIM has legitimate concerns here or is it just bullying an upstart because it’s afraid that if BBM loses its appeal, the BlackBerry platform loses a key feature that sets it apart from the competition?

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