At a certain point, it’s not funny: it’s stunning. Assuming it manages to keep a lid on its incompetence for the next three weeks, Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) will close out perhaps the most disastrous year in its existence having been forced to change the name of its next-generation software product months before it even sees the light of day.
It’s not clear whether RIM’s lawyers forgot to check if the BBX name chosen for the first smartphone version of the QNX-based BlackBerry operating system was already in use, or whether they thought they could just bluff their way through any legal challenges. Either way, RIM was dealt a swift defeat Tuesday by a New Mexico judge ruling on behalf of Basis International, which sued to prevent RIM from using the BBX name at a developer conference in Singapore and was granted a temporary restraining order against RIM’s use of that trademark.
Just hours later, RIM’s official developer Twitter feed pronounced “Asia Keynote: BlackBerry 10 is the official name of the next generation platform that will power future BlackBerry smartphones!” I’m sure no one will remember the fact that it unveiled that next-generation platform with a different name just two short months ago, or wonder why RIM decided to go from BlackBerry 7, the current version of its operating system, straight to BlackBerry 10.
In July, when shareholder unrest and product delays were already starting to drag on RIM, its co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis begged for more time to complete the “product transition” to the BBX, excuse me, BlackBerry 10 software. A few weeks earlier, they had agreed to let a board committee examine whether or not the company’s dual-leader management structure was effective, and that committee is expected to issue a report in January.
Since then, RIM’s stock has declined 41 percent. It suffered through a three-day BlackBerry outage the week before the iPhone 4S launch. And it was forced to take a $485 million charge against the sales of QNX-based Playbook tablets that no one will touch.
RIM reports earnings next week. If Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, his co-CEO, spend another hour defending how well they work together, we’ll know that the chances of RIM turning its mobile fortunes around with those two at the helm are nonexistent.