by Al Sacco

Before Touch ID: BlackBerry Filed for Trackpad-Fingerprint-Scan Patent in ’04

Oct 04, 20133 mins

BlackBerry filed a patent application way back in 2004 for a technology that's remarkably similar to the new Touch ID fingerprint-scanner in Apple's iPhone 5S.

I’m currently working on a roundup of notable BlackBerry-related stories I wrote during the past six or seven years, and I came across one post that quickly caught my eye, for an obvious reason, entitled, “Why BlackBerry Fingerprint Scanning via Trackpad Could be an IT Nightmare.”

BlackBerry fingerprint scanner patent image

The obvious reason is that Apple recently introduced a fingerprint-scanning technology in its iPhone 5s, called Touch ID, which lets users place their fingers on their iPhone home buttons to unlock their devices. And the concept is very similar to the one described in a BlackBerry, then RIM, patent, which was initially filed way back in the RIM-glory days of 2004.

Of course, BlackBerry never actually released a BlackBerry with a fingerprint scanner built into a trackpad. In fact, the latest crop of BlackBerry 10 devices doesn’t even have trackpads.

From the related patent that was issued to BlackBerry in 2009:


“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.”

I purchased an iPhone 5s the day the device was released, and I must say, my experience with Touch ID has been positive. It works well, and it is a heck of a lot easier than entering in a complex password every time I want to use my device.

In the post mentioned above, I cited one reason why smartphone-based fingerprint scanning could be an IT nightmare: If it doesn’t work well, it falls on IT to constantly resolve user issues. Apple avoided this potential problem by developing a fingerprint scanning system that works very well.

However, it remains to be seen just how IT friendly Touch ID really is. Cats can apparently unlock iPhones using Touch ID, which raises some questions.  I reached out to Apple weeks ago to request specific information on how Touch ID works, what kind of encryption is used to store fingerprint data in the iPhone 5s chip and whether that encryption meets any sort of industry-accepted security standards. And I haven’t heard a peep back from the company. In other words, Apple isn’t talking about the security specifics. (There is a Touch ID security page on Apple’s website, but it does not provide specific details.)

One thing Apple does extremely well: Take ideas from other tech vendors and make them work better. Both the iPod and iPad are two more examples of this practice. That’s not a bad thing, and I’m not criticizing Apple for it. But at the same time, it’s certainly not something Apple is going to brag about in an earnings call or iPhone sales announcement.