BlackBerry users take stock as NTP threat is lifted

The Waterloo, Ont.-based provider of the push-e-mail service and announced its agreement with patent holder NTP to make a one-time payment of $US612.5 million in exchange for a licence agreement earlier this month. The deal means NTP will get the money even if the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office overturns its intellectual property claims. RIM and NTP had settled for far less – US$450 million – a year ago, but the deal broke down and came to a head when a U.S. judge ordered the two parties to reach an agreement or face the threat of an injunction on BlackBerry sales in the U.S.

Several vendors who have developed software products and services around the BlackBerry expressed relief and a hope that the settlement would answer the anxious questions they have been getting from customers. Ottawa-based Tiree Inc., for example, announced its facilities management application, Archibus/FM, would be extended to the BlackBerry just two days before RIM faced a critical hearing about the threatened injunction.

Tiree president Andrew Millar said two Tiree clients – J.P. Morgan and MDS International – who are in the midst of North America-wide deployments came to it with concerns and asked about workarounds.

While RIM had said it developed a workaround that would allow BlackBerry service to continue even in the event of an injunction, Millar said Tiree was prepared to move users over to a Pocket PC environment, using Microsoft-based software. The fact that the BlackBerry application is Java-based, meanwhile, provided some level of device independence. “We could have ported to another platform.”

Eric Apps, president of Toronto-based Angoss Software, said his firm deployed its FundGuard predictive lead generation solution on BlackBerry devices earlier this year because it was the e-mail platform one of its clients selected. By the same token, RIM’s dominance means it makes sense to build its marketing and sales analytics products around that user base. “We like to think of the Blackberry in some sense as the iPod of the knowledge worker community,” he said. “I think the resolution of the NTP litigation will obviously benefit RIM . . . . Not having to worry about implementing workarounds, or otherwise deal with potential disruptions of users, is likely a huge relief.”

Microsoft a threat
Carmy Levi, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research, said RIM’s biggest threat after NTP is Microsoft, which has been shipping a platform that’s mature enough to compete feature-for-feature with the BlackBerry, and Nokia, which last year bought Intellisync in part to provide an alternative to RIM’s service. Overall, however, he said most users are sticking by the BlackBerry.

“There has been some suppression of demand – some have been gun-shy and have held back from existing deployments out of fear. I think as this case draws to a close, that will change,” he said. “There’s a lot of optimism in the platform that this remains a robust, deployable solution. If you look at the stock price, the market has voted with its pocketbook.”

Millar, on the other hand, suggested the NTP suit may have highlighted the fact that RIM is no longer the only game in town.

“If you talk to the major players in this space, the majority would say that Microsoft is the safest bet right now,” he said. “Its new application server has the free embedded push capability that the BlackBerry has always had. It’s only a matter of time before organizations start looking at that.”

Legal experts said the case brought an unusual amount of attention to patent disputes, which could influence the way companies manage their intellectual property from now on.

“How many resources do you devote to the due diligence? The result of this may be to spur new entrants into spending a little more money on this,” said Rory Radding, a senior patent attorney at New York-based Morrison & Foerster.

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