February 2, 2006 4:00 AM PST

FAQ: Will BlackBerrys be shut down?

BlackBerry fans have been holding their breath as a five-year intellectual property fight that could lead to the shutdown of their beloved mobile devices heads into its final weeks.

Lawyers for Research In Motion and patent holder NTP are scheduled to give final arguments later this month before a Virginia judge who could reimpose an injunction on the sales of BlackBerry devices in the U.S. NTP has won several court victories so far, but RIM has prevailed on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to call NTP's patents into question.

The case is being closely watched by the tech industry amid calls for patent reform and by anxious BlackBerry users wondering how they'll keep the mobile e-mail flowing in the event of a shutdown. Just to spice things up, RIM claims that it has a "workaround" that could allow it to bypass NTP's patents simply by upgrading its software.

Why might I wake up one day in late March to a dead BlackBerry?
As its patent-infringement defense against NTP winds down, RIM is scheduled to argue on Feb. 24 against an injunction on the sale and support of BlackBerry devices in the U.S. After a jury trial in 2002, NTP won an injunction against RIM that was stayed in 2003 pending an appeals process.

Various appeals courts have struck down a few portions of that original decision, but have agreed with most of the basic infringement claims and ordered the case returned to the lower court. Since the courts agreed that most of NTP's claims were infringed by RIM, NTP is expected to ask for an injunction. The company has agreed to give RIM's customers a 30-day window to switch to other providers and will allow RIM to continue providing the service to agencies of the U.S. government.

Who or what is NTP?
NTP is a holding company that exists to enforce patents issued to the late Thomas Campana, who founded NTP with his lawyer, Donald Stout, to capitalize on his inventions. It has signed licensing deals with Nokia, Good Technology, Palm and Visto.

Why does NTP want an injunction?
NTP doesn't make any products or provide any services, so it won't benefit from shutting down RIM in the competitive sense. But the cost that an injunction would pose to RIM, its customers and investors is believed to be so prohibitive that many analysts believe RIM will settle the case rather than risk angering its base.

RIM and NTP tentatively agreed to settle this case last March for $450 million, but the deal fell through. It's believed a new settlement could fetch NTP as much as $1 billion.

Why doesn't RIM just settle the case now?
Several reasons. There's always the possibility the judge might decline to re-impose the injunction, although legal experts won't bet on it given that the appeals court and trial judge have both found that RIM is infringing on NTP's patents. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice weighed in and filed a brief arguing against an injunction, saying that it will be very hard to ensure government access to the service while denying the use of BlackBerry devices to others.

CONTINUED: Doing the workaround...…
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12 comments

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Subverting the law...
Everyone in today society thinks that the law applys to everyone
else except them. I see this in the US gov. wire tap program,
women wearing t shirts in state of the union galleries, ( Now
we're told it's not against the law) and I could keep going on.
Even though the small patent holding company NPT, really does
nothing more than hold the patent, it's still is in it's right to ask
for compensation for using it's ideal. NPT has tried to settle with
a fair deal on more than one occasion with RIM, but RIM just
does not want to have to pay a fair price for use of the patent,
so they use the threat of telling the Gov. that it will adversly
effect the world day to day operations. There are other options
out there. How many people out there have had an ideal at work
for improving something at work, only to have another employee
to think of the ideal first, or hear your ideal, and apply it, and
get the credit for it? You think..., hey that was my ideal.
Here is a similar instance. Back in the 50's in the US a gentleman
designed and patented a windsheld wiper delay system.
All the big 3 employed the ideal into their vehicles without
paying the patent holder a single dime, and when he took them
to court and fought them over a 3 decades, the big 3 said the
safety of the public far out weighed paying the patent holder.
I think the patent holder finally won in the 80's, but was dead.
As a former blackberry owner, I understand the need for these
devices, however, RIM should just go ahead and pay the patent
holder the fair price they ask, and all this would be adverted.
It's just a matter of them not wanting to pay. This is what the
patent office is all about..., protecting ideals. Unfortunately we
know that big money and lobbyist, (which quite a few own BB
products) will rule the day at the end.
As I said at the begining of this topic, the bottom line is about
following the law, (you and I have to do it everyday) and NPT is
well in their right to make a claim for fair compensation.
Posted by smithjones (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So I might as well start collecting them.
I have 15 in my office and 4 of them are brand new.

The VP and ceo's are looking for alternative solutions. SKYPE anyone?

How much you think I can get for selling them on ebay?
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patents going too far?
I see this as a troubling advance in litigation-prone society. Patents have now gone far beyond their original intention.

While I admit I don't know the specific legal definition of the patent of which NTP is claiming infringement, I do wish I had been able to patent something as simple as this.
Maybe I should see if "electric charge over conductive medium" has been registered yet...
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patent Idea
I personally think that in order to secure a patent you should have to have a working model, and actually produce that design. If you dont produce it... then the patent expires. These "idea" patents are ridiculous.

I wonder if there is a patent on the idea of "Get rich from creating vague patents"... I could make a killing then!
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Link Flag
Shut down the Service
I think the courts should allow RIM to continue operation until all the patents in question are either validated or invalidated. If one patent still stands then RIM should have 30 days to either settle up with NTP or shutdown it's service.

I think that is fair to all parties. To bad I'm not the judge. :)
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Software Patents killing software innovation
Patents as vague as "delivering e-mail over a wireless network to mobile devices" really kills innovation and makes the software business a very dangerous venture.

Small software companies cannot invest all the money to check if concepts so vagues have been registered... can they afford getting sued afterward?
Posted by myrdhrin (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Is the patent or the description of the patent vague?
We must consider that perhaps this patent is being heavily summarized. RIM could be following this man's exact design and we're just not being accurately informed.

However, I am of the opinion that this patent is excessively vague and that NTP is simply targeting the most prominent company whose products could be interpreted as infringing the patent. It is very similar to the predictions of Nostradamus. His predictions were extremely vague but, when interpreted, appear to be very precise. This seems to be the case in the patent battle between NTP and RIM. It seems that this man had an idea that seemed very possible and so he patented it in hopes that something like this would occur.

I do not put either side of this suit to blame in this dispute. RIM delivers a good product that uses what most people consider innovative technology. NTP is protecting its founder's ideas, however vague they may be. I believe that the patent office is to blame for allowing such a vague idea to be protected as a patent. If there is a schematic that RIM seems to have infringed on, then RIM should pay up. If it is just a vague idea, the NTP should shut up and the patent office should review its criteria for how detailed patents must be.
Posted by Verlth (24 comments )
Link Flag
Is the patent or the description of the patent vague?
We must consider that perhaps this patent is being heavily summarized. RIM could be following this man's exact design and we're just not being accurately informed.

However, I am of the opinion that this patent is excessively vague and that NTP is simply targeting the most prominent company whose products could be interpreted as infringing the patent. It is very similar to the predictions of Nostradamus. His predictions were extremely vague but, when interpreted, appear to be very precise. This seems to be the case in the patent battle between NTP and RIM. It seems that this man had an idea that seemed very possible and so he patented it in hopes that something like this would occur.

I do not put either side of this suit to blame in this dispute. RIM delivers a good product that uses what most people consider innovative technology. NTP is protecting its founder's ideas, however vague they may be. I believe that the patent office is to blame for allowing such a vague idea to be protected as a patent. If there is a schematic that RIM seems to have infringed on, then RIM should pay up. If it is just a vague idea, the NTP should shut up and the patent office should review its criteria for how detailed patents must be.
Posted by Verlth (24 comments )
Link Flag
Actually NTP can benefit financially from closing Blackberry users down
The article stated that NTP does not have a wireless email business so that they would not financially benefit from closing Blackberry down in the US.

Actually they would benefit as NTP has made investments in a couple of Blackberry's competitors. They are private companies offering wirless email services and Blackberry users could defect to them, so benefitting NTP as a minority investor.
Posted by businessuncut (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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