Why isn't patent trolling made illegal?

Millions and millions of Germans use Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook. The Munich Regional Court I has now decided that the Facebook group is no longer allowed to offer these apps in their current form. In nine cases, the court ruled on Thursday that parts of the software violated patents held by the Canadian company Blackberry. A spokeswoman for the court stated: "The judgments actually prohibit offering and delivering the aforementioned applications in the FRG for use in the FRG, insofar as they use the patents in question." Facebook could comply with the ban by "no longer offering or delivering apps at all or by modifying them beforehand in such a way that the specifically attacked functionality is changed".

The verdict is not yet final, and the Facebook spokesman said there may be an appeal. However, the group could still be forced to act because the judgment is "provisionally enforceable". If Blackberry deposits a sum of money with the judicial coffers or gives Facebook a guarantee as security, Facebook has to implement the ban. The money would be a security in the event that the Higher Regional Court upholds Facebook's appeal. Then Blackberry would have to compensate for the damage that Facebook could have already suffered. The court has set an amount between one million and 1.6 million euros as security deposit for each case. Blackberry was unavailable for comment on Friday.

However, it is unlikely that the group will switch off Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and Facebook Messenger in Germany when this security is stored. A spokesman for the company said: "We will continue to be able to make all of our apps available in Germany. The legal proceedings affect a few specific functions of our apps. We already have software updates available for these functions in order to meet the requirements of the injunction BlackBerry decides to enforce this. "

How the apps would then actually change is still unclear. Whether users feel the ban now depends on whether Blackberry has deposited a lot of money.

Facebook also defends itself fundamentally against Blackberry's legal attacks: "We have challenged the validity of the Blackberry patents on which the injunction is based and are waiting for the decision of the Federal Patent Court."

The Munich court specializes in patent disputes. The ruling concerns four Blackberry patents, some of which are used by individual apps from the Facebook group, and some of which are used by all four: Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and Facebook Messenger.

The smartphone development overtook Blackberry

In the proceedings, the lawyers of the two parties argued before the judge about complex technical details of the software; about whether Whatsapp uses a technology for which Blackberry holds a patent when sending the entire "history" of a chat - i.e. the progress - to third parties by email. Or about which parts of this process are carried out by Whatsapps software and which by the iOS operating system, for which the manufacturer Apple is not responsible, not Facebook. In addition, there were arguments about friendship suggestions in the Facebook app and switching from one chat to another in messenger apps.

Blackberry cell phones ushered in the smartphone era in the noughties. Blackberry Messenger works in a similar way to chat apps today. However, the development overtook the then Blackberry manufacturer RIM. Today Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers shape the smartphone market.

Even after various corporate reorganizations, Blackberry still holds many patents which, according to the company, are used by other companies without permission. Blackberry, for example, is suing Facebook in various proceedings around the world.

Blackberry denies being little more than a "patent troll" - a company that tries to make money in dubious patent lawsuits instead of serious deals. The accusation is that Blackberry hopes to force other companies through the legal proceedings to conclude expensive license deals with him in order to be able to continue using the software as before. Because what Blackberry would have from switching off the chat function in Instagram, for example, is unclear.

Update, December 6, 2019, 6:57 p.m.: The article was updated with another statement from Facebook.