RIM, PlayBook OS 2.0, and Future Tablet Potential Based on Patent Application Filings

Envision IP analyzed RIM’s patent filing activity in technologies applicable to its PlayBook and finds that RIM has been investing significantly in R&D behind its tablet line.

Blackberry-Playbook

Maulin V. Shah and S. Farhan Mustafa

February 21, 2012

Filed under

With lackluster reviews for its PlayBook tablet, and an inability to take market share away from Apple’s iPad and Android-based devices, Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) announced today the PlayBook OS 2.0 operating system.  The upgrade includes features such as built-in email and calendar applications, as well as robust integration with social networking platforms.  However, the question remains – will these upgrades be enough to re-vamp the PlayBook line?

Based on RIM’s patent filing activity in technologies applicable to its PlayBook, RIM has been investing significantly in R&D behind its tablet line.  If the PlayBook OS 2.0 can renew consumer confidence in RIM, this could signal future developments and unique offerings by RIM in the tablet space.

Patent Data Analysis

RIM is a major holder of patent applications related to many aspects of tablet technology.  RIM is the third largest filer in of tablet-related patent applications after LG and Samsung, respectively.  The vast majority of RIM’s patent filings are related to user interfaces, and RIM also has sizable filings related to input recognition and wireless communication technologies.

These three areas are key components of any tablet device.  This suggests that RIM is attempting to own most of the technology required for its tablet line (versus licensing technology from its competitors and other third-parties).

RIM has shown a steady increase in patent application filings in the user interface and input recognition categories each year since 2007.  Interestingly, RIM shows an increase of over 100% in wireless communication technology-related filings between 2009 and 2010.

3D Display

Camera

Display Hardware

GUI

Input Recognition

Multimedia

Motion Sensors

Wireless Comm.

Total

2007

0

3

4

58

27

0

0

49

141

2008

0

18

17

94

39

6

0

54

228

2009

3

15

45

88

64

5

0

44

264

2010

0

23

31

133

115

17

9

91

419

Total

3

59

97

373

245

28

9

238

1052

Table: RIM’s Year-Wise Patent Publications by Tablet-Related Category.

In 2008 and 2009, RIM filed a handful of patent applications related to multimedia technologies.  In 2010, RIM filed 17 patent applications in this category, tripling its multimedia-related filings from 2009.  Additionally, RIM filed 9 patent applications related to motion sensor technology for portable devices, the first time it filed in this category.

RIM’s patent filing activity indicates its increasing focus on input recognition technology related to touch screens, which is a departure from its traditional hard QWERTY keypad design of its Blackberry platform.  From 2009 to 2010, RIM had a 44% increase in input recognition-related filings.  This coupled with a 33% in user interface-related filings, shows that RIM is heavily investing in interfaces, usability, and input capture technologies which could differentiate its products from its competitors.

Competitive Features and Related Patent Filings

One of RIM’s patents demonstrates its dedication to both user interface and display hardware innovation.  US 20090046070, published in February 2009 discloses a tablet device with a flexible touch-screen display.  This patent application suggests the possibility of including a multi-axis input, where in addition to finger movements along a single plane, finger movements along a z-axis, can be used to actuate different inputs.  In other words, consumers can use gestures along with various finger pressures to input data or make selections on the display.

With regards to unique uses of wireless communication technologies for tablet devices, US 20110070828 published in March 2011 discloses using near-field communications (i.e., RFID, Bluetooth, etc.) for making purchases in various environments, such as for movie tickets or subway tickets.  This technology may allow RIM to be a leader in embedded transaction systems on its devices, eliminating the need for external card reader-type attachments (e.g. Square mobile credit card reader), or hardware-consuming optical barcode and QR-Code readers, which are currently the only viable solution for mobile payment systems.

Conclusion

Over the last few years, RIM has filed a large number of patent applications (1052) related to tablet technology, even edging out Apple’s 970 tablet-related patent filings since 2007.  RIM has invested heavily into core tablet features such as user interface, input recognition, and wireless communications, giving it the technology required to independently develop its own tablet platform.

Traditional Blackberry devices gained market share in the enterprise market due to their limited multimedia and peripheral functions.  However, RIM seems to have departed from this focus, with recent increases in both camera and multimedia patent application filings.  RIM appears poised to make more aggressive moves towards capturing the mass consumer market.

Given RIM’s significant investment into tablet and touch technology, we expect another iteration of the PlayBook if PlayBook OS 2.0 can breath new life into RIM’s tablet line.  If this happens, and based on RIM’s patent application filings in this space that promise innovative features and technologies, we expect RIM to develop a serious contender to the iPad and Android-based devices in the future.