Research In Motion probably can’t wait for the year to end. After a spate of bad news, the BlackBerry-maker was hoping to turn the corner with the announcement of its new BBX operating system. Now a small software company has followed up on its warnings last week and filed a trademark suit to stop RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) from using the name.
The company, BASIS International, provides a programming language and related tools for the software development community. It claims that for decades it has used the trademark BBX to designate its products in the US and other countries.
In its complaint, filed in Albuquerque federal court, BASIS says that its lawyers wrote Research In Motion immediately after the latter announced its BBX new operating system on October 19 and demanded that it cease using the mark. BASIS says that it never received a response. BASIS’s filing also include a cease-and-desist letter and images showing a BlackBerry executive standing in front of a giant BBX mark in San Francisco last week.
BASIS claims that it has already received questions from confused customers about RIM’s new operating system. Worse, the company says, developers who use the product are also asking if the BASIS BBX software is only compatible with RIM devices. It asserts that this is a major problem because the BASIS programming tools are designed for cross-platform development, meaning that an app maker could use BASIS to design an app for use on an iPhone, an Android phone or, yes, a BlackBerry. BASIS fears that developers will now associate its BBX software only with RIM products.
RIM could not be immediately reached for comment but last week the company told Reuters in an email that “we do not believe the marks are confusing, particularly since our respective companies are in different lines of business.”
The test for trademark infringement is whether a rival’s mark is likely to create a likelihood of confusion in the minds of consumers. In this situation, BASIS may have a strong case because it has a registered mark for what appears to be an overlapping category of goods. Its 1995 trademark was granted for “Computer Software (written in a dialect of basic programming languages), and instruction manuals provided therewith, for use in the creation and execution of business and financial software.”
In the lawsuit, BASIS is asking for damages and for a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent RIM from using the BBX mark.
These sort of trademark lawsuits have become a regular feature of the technology landscape. In certain cases, such as those involving several Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) “i-products”, the plaintiff can appear to be an opportunist who has obtained the mark simply in order to obtain a pay-out to go away. In other situations, the plaintiff is using the disputed mark for a genuine business. One recent example appears to be Timelines.com, which is involved in an ongoing dispute with Facebook over the latter’s new “Timeline” feature.