BlackBerry users left in limbo after RIM/NTP hearing

BlackBerry users in the U.S. can keep thumbing for a bit longer following the District Court’s decision to delay a ruling that could force an injunction and damages payments against Research In Motion.

As expected, Judge James R. Spencer of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia decided not to rule from the bench. In an interview with ITBusiness.ca recently, a lawyer for Virginia-based NTP said he expected that Spencer would make a final ruling in the week following the hearing. RIM did not issue a press release statement following Friday’s proceedings, which took place in a Richmond, Va. courtroom.

The high profile patent infringement case, which has been dragging on for more than four years, could come to a close be as early as next week — but don’t hold your breath. A multi-million dollar settlement attempt fizzled out last year after the two parties couldn’t reach an agreement. RIM has also developed a software workaround package to allow it to continue to service its popular wireless e-mail device in the event of a shutdown.

RIM received a boost earlier in the week when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on Wednesday rejected all of the NTP patents in first and second readings. RIM expects the PTO’s decision to withstand future NTP appeals.

But as the hearing date drew closer, things got even uglier. On Thursday, the PTO denied NTP’s request to have an earlier decision by the Office withdrawn. That same day RIM filed its response to NTP’s motion, asking the District Court to add the PTO’s decision to the record as well as letters from five other technology and telecommunications companies including Microsoft and Sprint. In its letter, Microsoft, which has also been slapped with patent infringement allegations from NTP, underscored the potential impact of the Court’s decision on the software industry as a whole.

“…The significant potential impact on the software industry that is increasingly dependent on new modes of wireless communication to drive innovation…” the letter states.

On the eve of the hearing, NTP reportedly issued a statement criticizing RIM for lobbying the Canadian and U.S. governments to influence the PTO’s decisions.While RIM is staying mum on the proceedings for now, ITBusiness.ca readers have shared their thoughts with us on what an injunction and hefty payout might mean to the IT industry.

RIM is a one-trick pony. If it can’t do it’s trick, I don’t see any future for it. RIM also appears to think it IS the mobile computing market, which I suppose is true today. But devices are poised to do SO much more than RIM. Its main strength will soon be market position vs. product value. We know market position (vs. product value) is not to be taken lightly – look at WIN386. But unlike RIM, Microsoft was hugely dedicated to extending the functionality of its (Windows) product of the day. I am not sure I see the same thing with RIM. And its competitors are very close on its heels with better product with great potential.
–Mike Cuddy, Torontomont

I don’t think it will affect us. My concern is only if I’m going down to the United States and I need to use my BlackBerry – it’s going to make me think twice before I go. I’d have to use another means of communications. That would not be very good business for us.
–George Harper, director of IT of The Print House

If there is some good to result from RIM/NTP dispute, it will be an increase in the general awareness of the fact that the patent system is malfunctioning and needs some adjustments.

The developer of any commercially viable innovation has a choice: He can either choose to keep the details of the innovation to himself and exploit it commercially as he sees fit, or he can enter into a bargain with the society (which is what a patent is) and, in exchange for making public the full details of the innovation, gain some reasonable level of protection from the competition. In order to qualify for such bargain, the innovation must be well-defined, original and non-trivial.

The system we operate under today is faulty in two important aspects: the benefits to the inventor are out of proportion with the benefits to the society; which in turn results in such deluge of patents that it is impossible to a-priory weed out trivial and/or ill-defined “innovations”. This is the ground on which such protracted, expensive and ultimately counter-productive conflagrations as the RIM/NTP flourish.

If (and when) we reach a point where there is a critical mass of opinion that favours some adjustments of the patent system, the Adelphi Charter might be a good place to start.
–Hrvoje Lukatela, Geodyssey.com

The BlackBerry decision will at least put the issue to rest. The impact to the market however, has already been done. Media coverage of the trial has had a far-reaching impact. Many companies have looked at alternative solutions to BlackBerry because of this case, and will continue to pursue them regardless of the outcome. These companies have decided that they don’t feel as comfortable having all of their mobility eggs in one basket as they were a year ago. This will, I believe lead many organizations to look seriously at alternative solutions such as Good, Visto, and Microsoft. Even with Canadian-based business rollouts, the concept of having a Canada-only solution is concerning.

Microsoft may end up being the winner in this type of scenario as the Exchange solution is the only one that doesn’t require an additional middleware solution.
–Gary Compagnon, president, ASP Flex Technologies Inc.

As everyone knows RIM’s March 2005 $450 million offer to settle the so-called patent claim by NTP was declared invalid by a judge. Big surprise. Very rarely do judges display any common sense. In fact NTP’s patent claims have been declared ambiguous yet the legal system in the U.S. might still order the shutdown of the RIM network even though RIM has offered the three guys of NTP U$450 million. NTP has no products, no services, no business. So what the heck is the U.S. legal system doing?

In essence the U.S. legal system, with its out of control liberal judge jet set, is trying to destroy a technological innovator and creator of wealth. RIM has created billions of dollars in capital, wealth, jobs, and taxes paid. Its reward is to have a group of smarmy lawyers and judges try to put it out of business or rape it for US$1 billion (which is the estimate out of court settlement). So US$1 billion will go to lawyers and the thee guys and their dog at NTP, instead of into market innovation, jobs and further wealth creation.

Wonderful.

There is no evidence that RIM stole any of the so-called patents owned by NTP. There is also no evidence that NTP’s so-called patents are directly applicable to RIM’s three main innovations – the mobile keyboard, always on e-mail, and secure architecture. Two simple question needs to be asked about this case – #1: where is NTP’s product? If RIM really did copy NTP’s patents – and there is zero proof of this – where is NTP’s competing product and service? Question #2: where has RIM infringed upon, or stolen NTP’s right to compete in the market place?
–Craig Reid, Toronto Wireless User Group

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