With only days to go in 2011, it seems almost impossible that RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) could have had any more bad press piled on it this year. But for all the ways that the BlackBerry maker has missed the mark in the past 12 months, this seems to be one area where the it keeps on dinging the bell. Today it emerged that BBM Canada, a broadcasting trade body, is taking RIM to court over its use of BBM, which has become a common abbreviation for RIM’s messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger.
RIM has already issued a response to the suit, saying that trademark law cannot apply in this case because RIM and BBM Canada are in different industries: “The services associated with RIM’s BBM offering clearly do not overlap with BBM Canada’s services and the two marks are therefore eligible to co-exist under Canadian trademark law,” it told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
BBM Canada, which has been around since 1944, provides data analysis to Canadian broadcasters. It has said that its employees get mistaken for those from RIM because of the name. And its services, it claims, are not as far removed from RIM’s as RIM would claim: it uses smartphone apps in part for the collection of data.
RIM had actually tried to get a trademark for BBM back in October of 2009 but BBM Canada claims it was denied; RIM says that application is still pending, according to the Globe and Mail. RIM regularly promotes its messaging service as BBM.
BlackBerry Messenger, a free messaging service that works over RIM’s smartphones, has been one of the company’s big hits.
It has been cited as one of the reasons that BlackBerry phones have maintained some currency with the much-coveted segment of young adult users — who like to use the free service to communicate with each other (sometimes controversially, as in the case of the London riots, when it was used as a planning network for would-be rioters).
That position among young users has remained even as BlackBerry’s overall market position has deteriorated with the rise of a plethora of competing devices, including those from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), as well as Android-based smartphones — a situation that may become compacted as Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) really push Windows Phone handsets in the year ahead, especially to enterprise users, a segment where RIM has traditionally played strong.
Mindful of BBM’s popularity, RIM has been enhancing the service, adding a music offering over the platform as well as the ability for developers to integrate BBM into apps for BlackBerry devices.
This scuffle over the BBM trademark caps off a pretty grim year for RIM that included a huge, multinational service outage, disappointing sales numbers for its phones and new PlayBook tablet, and even a previous trademark suit — when RIM had to stop using the name BBX for its as-yet unreleased operating system after a complaint from Basis International was upheld by a court.