Why BlackBerry Fingerprint Scanning via Trackpad Could be an IT Nightmare

A recent patent application filed by BlackBerry-maker RIM suggests that the company may soon incorporate fingerprint-scanning technology for added security into the "trackpad" navigation system used in some of its latest devices. But such a move could have unintended consequences for corporate smartphone administrators. Here's one reason why.

Thu, January 28, 2010

CIO — BlackBerry smartphones are well-known for their impressive security safeguards, built into both Research In Motion's (RIM) (RIM) handheld software that actually runs on the devices and its associated BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) corporate mail server. But if a recently filed USPTO patent application is any indicator of what's to come, RIM just may be adding another key security feature to some of its smartphones: a fingerprint scanner built into the new BlackBerry "trackpad."

Fingerprint-Scanner-Related Image from RIM Patent Filing with USPTO
Fingerprint-Scanner-Related Image from RIM Patent Filing with USPTO

At first, the idea sounds like a great one--and it certainly could prove to be a valued addition to RIM's BlackBerry product line. But a little red flag popped up in my head as soon as heard about the idea. I'll get to why soon enough, but first, here's some additional information on the recently-filed patent application...errr, extension.

A patent application titled "Apparatus and method of input and finger print recognition on a handheld electronic device" was initially filed by RIM in May 2004, and a related patent was granted years later in April 2009, according to United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) filings. So RIM has clearly been toying with the idea of working fingerprint-scanning into the BlackBerry for some time.

The new application (#10849928) appears to be a "continuation" of this related patent, and it introduces a new, touch-pad-based method of fingerprint scanning.

From the patent text:


"This patent application relates to mobile communication techniques in general, and to an apparatus and method of input and finger print recognition on a handheld electronic device in particular.


"Touch pads are known techniques of computer input. A touch pad has a flat surface capable of producing a signal when the flat surface is touched with a finger.

"Finger print recognition is a known technique of biometric systems, utilized for recognizing the identity of a person based on physiological characteristics.

"Both techniques are typically not provided simultaneously in handheld electronic devices. Although touch pads and finger print devices are common, touch pads may have very low resolution, and may use an interpretive algorithm to increase the apparent resolution, whereas finger print devices may have very high resolution. The limited surface area of a handheld electronic device may exclude the use of both touch pads and fingerprint devices simultaneously."

What's even more convincing evidence that BlackBerrys may soon get touchpad fingerprint-scanning is the fact that RIM recently introduced new APIs within some of its latest BlackBerry JDE development toolsets for "fingerprint biometric data."

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