Amid ongoing litigation and no settlement with Virginia-based NTP Inc., it’s business as usual at Research In Motion Ltd. as the Waterloo, Ont.-based company last week launched a new version of its popular BlackBerry device.
The BlackBerry 8700c will be available in the U.S. on Cingular Wireless LLC high-speed EDGE network technology, allowing enhanced application performance and faster Web browsing.
“This is a major step forward in wireless innovation really integrating advanced processors from Intel, advanced Cingular network and the new advanced BlackBerry 8700c,” said RIM chairman and co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie at a teleconference last Tuesday. At press time, RIM did not respond to further interview requests.
The device, which is currently not available in Canada, will run on Intel Corp.’s powerful XScale-based PXA901 cellular processor that features support for EDGE (Enhanced Data rate for Global Evolution) networks and extended battery life capabilities. This is, however, not the first time RIM has used Intel’s technology. Earlier versions of the BlackBerry device like the 950 series used Intel 32-bit 386 processors.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court denied RIM’s motion to stay further proceedings until the court decides whether or not it will accept an appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision in August. The Supreme Court also decided that it would allow the District Court to decide whether and to what extent the case will continue — which includes the possibility of it being heard by the Supreme Court.
While it could take months before the U.S. Supreme Court will reach a decision on whether it will hear RIM’s appeal of an earlier decision upholding patent infringement charges against the firm, legal and industry experts say the BlackBerry maker’s legal woes won’t interfere with its product strategy.
“That’s an issue that’s likely going to come up pretty soon because if they don’t settle, the question will be for the courts whether any new issues are raised by the new product,” said Jim Hurst, partner, Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago. “If not then this new product will be covered by the old judgment.”
Toronto lawyer Simon Chester at Heenan Blaikie said RIM will continue to focus on building its U.S. market despite what’s going on in the courts.
“The legal confrontation is a sideshow for RIM,” said Chester.“It shouldn’t prevent them getting products to market.”
The Patent Office (PTO) last month announced it has rejected all of NTP’s claims in its first review — a decision that’s not uncommon in first readings, said Hurst.
“The District Court could say too much is going on in the patent office, the situation is too uncertain, and that they’re not going to take BlackBerries off the market until they find out what happened in the PTO.”
The question now, Hurst added, is whether any changes to the device raise any new issues to the infringement.
“NTP patents are pretty broad so it’s unlikely a new platform makes an infringing device an non-infringing device,” said Hurst.
Eddie Chan, mobile analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto echoed Hurst’s comments in his response to RIM’s product launch.
“Companies file all these crazy patents,” said Chan. “They try to catch that revenue stream through litigation.”
Despite RIM’s ongoing legal battle driving down its share price 30 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange in the last 12 months, IDC Canada reports that RIM currently holds 60 per cent market share in terms of number of devices shipped in the converged mobile device market. RIM is followed by Nokia then Palm, which recently launched a new version of its Treo device that supports the Microsoft Mobile operating system platform.
While no Canadian carriers have officially announced their support for the new BlackBerry device, Rogers Wireless Inc. currently carries RIM’s 7100, 7290 and 7280 models.