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BlackBerry 'seeks monopoly on keyboards for any device,' says Ryan Seacrest startup

The TV and radio host-producer Ryan Seacrest— no stranger to Silicon Valley — is one of the founders of and investors in Typo Products, a startup that plans to start shipping a $99 keyboard attachment for iPhones in January. It’s supposed to cut down fat-finger typos (hence the name) and speed up text entry with a tactile keyboard a la the traditional BlackBerry.

Typo Products says BlackBerry is trying to hold a monopoly over smartphone keyboards, and that it shouldn't have to take its new iPhone case off the market.

The Los Angeles-based company, co-founded by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, filed documents Wednesday in a California court defending itself against a patent infringement lawsuit.

BlackBerry accuses Typo of copying its keyboard design in an effort to capitalize on the smartphone maker's "commercial recognition and goodwill."

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The company is seeking numerous rulings, including damages from Typo, all of Typo's profits and a stop to future sales of the keyboard technology.

The suit was filed in January and none of the allegations have been tested in court.

Typo disputes the claims made by BlackBerry, saying consumers will not be confused between the iPhone keyboard case, which sells for $99 (U.S.), and an actual BlackBerry smartphone.

The Typo case attaches to an iPhone 5 or 5S, the most recent Apple smartphone models, both of which have touchscreen keyboards. The case adds about six millimetres in thickness and less than two centimetres in length.

About $1.4 million was spent to develop the Typo keyboard, and the company has sold about 4,000 cases since it debuted last month, said the legal documents.

Production capacity allows Typo to produce about 10,000 cases per month, it said.

So far, the Typo case has generated plenty of interest with orders for both January and February sold out, according to the company's website.

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The idea for the Typo keyboard was born when Seacrest and its co-founder Laurence Hallier noticed their friends were carrying two phones — "one for typing and correspondence and an iPhone for virtually everything else," the company said on its website.

Seacrest is a well-known in the entertainment industry as host of "Idol," the weekly countdown radio show "American Top 40," and a producer on several television shows.

When BlackBerry filed its suit in January, the Waterloo, Ont.-based company outlined specifics of its keyboard layout and the roots of the current design in meticulous detail.

In its response, Typo attached pictures of various keyboard designs that date as far back as Smith Corona typewriters.

"Strangely, BlackBerry never disclosed any of these Smith Corona products to the patent office," Typo said in the documents.

"The QWERTY keyboard has been around since the 1870s and has been present in many messaging devices."

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Typo also noted that BlackBerry is chasing primarily business consumers while its iPhone keyboard is aiming for the consumer market.

"BlackBerry seeks a monopoly on keyboards for any device," it said.

"Regretfully, however, small keyboards with nearly identical layouts as the one 'claimed' by BlackBerry have been around since the mid-1980s."

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