By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 10, 2006
The company that makes BlackBerry devices said it has completed
development of software that will allow its wireless e-mail to
continue functioning even if a court orders the service shut down in a
The announcement from Research in Motion Ltd., the Canadian company
that started selling the popular BlackBerry in 1999, comes less than
two weeks before a federal district court hearing. The court has
already found that RIM violated patents held by NTP Inc. of McLean,
and analysts expect the judge to issue an injunction ordering RIM to
cease operations in the United States.
That would cause most of the 4 million BlackBerry users in the United
States to lose service unless the company can implement the substitute
software or the two sides can reach a settlement.
RIM said the new BlackBerry software will be available for later
download on its Web site and must be installed on customers' e-mail
servers as well as each handheld device. The software will not change
the appearance or function of existing devices, but its underlying
system, RIM contends, is different than NTP's and does not violate any
Whether that contention holds up remains to be seen, said Alexandria
patent attorney Susan Dadio. "From a technology perspective, whether
it's truly a workaround is still a question," because it hasn't met
NTP or other patent reviewers' scrutiny, she said. "They have not hit
a home run."
Information-technology officials were reluctant to react to
yesterday's announcement because RIM did not release details about the
software. Many companies have invested heavily in equipping staff
members with BlackBerrys and in synchronizing office e-mail servers
with them, so they have a financial incentive to stick with the
RIM said it thinks any injunction, if issued, should not affect
existing users, who may not have to download the software. The company
said its fix can be remotely activated on BlackBerrys already in use.
Kevin Anderson, an attorney for NTP, said the company had not reviewed
RIM's proposed software solution and could not comment on whether it
would continue to violate NTP's patents.
A spokeswoman for RIM said the company had not been contacted by
customers about implementing a download and declined to estimate when
the software would become available.
The companies have been locked in litigation for more than four years,
and RIM has disputed the validity of NTP's patents but has lost every
battle in court. In 2002, the company was ordered by a jury to pay
royalties that now total more than $250 million. Last fall, the U.S.
district judge said he would not delay an injunction. And most
recently, RIM was denied an appeal of its case to the Supreme Court.
In a news release yesterday, RIM maintained that an injunction is not
warranted and noted that recent reviews at the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office found that NTP's original patents may not be valid --
a finding NTP could still appeal. RIM is hoping the judge will take
the reviews into consideration at the Feb. 24 hearing.
Meanwhile, the companies both say they are open to settlement and
licensing agreements. But yesterday, RIM chairman and chief executive
Jim Balsillie said in a statement that "NTP's public offer of a
'reasonable' license . . . is simply untenable."
Anderson, NTP's attorney, said, "Their characterization is simply
=A9 2006 The Washington Post Company
InfoSec News v2.0 - Coming Soon!