Who Invented the BlackBerry?

By Roger Mock

While a romantic might envision a tinkerer with the surname BlackBerry creating cell phones in his garage, BlackBerry started like many technology giants -- with some ambitious students. Research in Motion, now BlackBerry Limited, came into existence in 1984 as the baby of two Canadian college students, Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin. Their company became one of the first wireless data technology developers within four years, but it wasn't until 1996 that the modern BlackBerry's predecessor arrived on the scene.

Before the BlackBerry

During their studies at the University of Waterloo and the University of Windsor, respectively, childhood friends Lazaridis and Fregin decided to put their engineering interests to use, according to Joseph Holder at Crackberry.com, a site dedicated to BlackBerry's faithful. They originally formed RIM to market Lazaridis' "Budgie," a device that displayed information on televisions. It found little success, but helped the company score bigger contracts, including work with General Motors, IBM and the National Film Board of Canada, where the company's film-editing system later helped win an Academy Award.

The Inter@ctive Pager

RIM bounced between wireless data projects for more than 10 years before releasing its Inter@ctive Pager 900, a device that supported two-way messaging and emails. With built-in keyboards, the Inter@ctive Pager 900 -- and later, the RIM 950 Wireless Handheld -- trumped other pagers often by allowing users to receive messages and to respond in a manner similar to modern-day text messaging.

The First BlackBerry

The success of the pagers propelled RIM into strategic partnerships and funding for its next big project, the BlackBerry, which the company championed as a "wireless email solution." RIM's 957 handheld in 2000 gave users access to the Internet and email, a pager and an organizer, but it was 2002's BlackBerry 5810 that brought data and voice together. It matched many of the basic features of smartphones.

The Founders

Fregin retired from RIM in 2007, although many of the materials he selected for the BlackBerry remain standard. Lazaridis stepped down from the company's board in May 2013 and reduced his share of the company to less than 5 percent later that year, according to The Verge website. The company the two childhood friends started as college students made them billionaires. Lazaridis returned to the University of Waterloo to serve as its chancellor from 2003 to 2009. Fregin and Lazaridis teamed up once more to form Quantum Valley Investments in 2013.