May 17, 2001 12:55 PM PDT

RIM wins patent, sues rival

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Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry e-mail pager, lashed out at one of its competitors Thursday, saying it violates a U.S. patent recently granted to RIM.

Ontario, Canada-based RIM charges in a suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Delaware that Glenayre Technologies violates a patent granted last month to RIM protecting the way the BlackBerry redirects e-mail from a computer or server to a handheld using a single e-mail address. Charlotte, N.C.-based Glenayre already has a pending suit of its own against RIM.

In an interview, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that Glenayre is a "blatant imitator" of RIM.

"This amateur hour has to stop," Balsillie told CNET News.com. "We see them as degraders not creators."

In its action, RIM claims Glenayre is guilty of patent infringement, trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition and false advertising and asks the court to find that Glenayre willfully infringed on RIM's intellectual property and to issue an injunction preventing further infringement. RIM also seeks unspecified damages, costs and legal fees.

A Glenayre representative said the company had not yet received a copy of the suit and declined to comment.

RIM's increased activity on the intellectual-property front comes as more companies are eyeing the wireless handheld market. Palm has said it will have an updated wireless device later this year that includes such RIM-like features as always-on e-mail and instant notification of new messages. Motorola is in the final stages of bringing out several new products, including the Accompli 009, which combines voice and data.

Meanwhile, a well-hyped start-up called Danger Research is reportedly planning a device similar to the Blackberry but aimed at consumers and sold for half the BlackBerry's price.

IDC analyst Alex Slawsby said the patent win should help allay concerns that RIM will be put out of business by larger companies that imitate its product.

"This is a way for RIM to really protect its space," Slawsby said. "It will force the big companies to either partner with them or try and do it on their own."

But the Glenayre suit shows that if rivals try to do it on their own, they had better make sure that they do so in a way that avoids RIM's intellectual property, Slawsby said. He added that the announcements from RIM open the door to the possibility that RIM's technology will be used in rival products.

"Companies like Palm or Microsoft could partner with RIM and license its products," Slawsby said.

Balsillie said his company is interestsed in finding licensees, although it has not yet struck any deals.

Balsillie has heard the press reports of Danger Research and others but said that for now he is not hearing about these competitors from the companies to which RIM sells its products.

"You really can't talk about these things until you have seen them," Balsillie said. "Customers don't buy press releases."

As for what customers are buying, Blasillie said the tougher economy is changing the way RIM sells its products, but he said the BlackBerry is still selling. While RIM had been pitching the device as something that businesses just want to have, the company now focuses on the cost savings compared with using a laptop.

"I'm not going to characterize our business as riskless," Balsillie said. However, he said the company is making a good case that it can save money, a powerful argument in a slowing economy.

News.com's Natalie Weinstein contributed to this report.

 

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