RealTime IT News

PTO Hands RIM a Rare Win

Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the popular BlackBerry handheld device, finally got a bit of good news this week following a potentially devastating federal court defeat Wednesday.

Less than a day after U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer ruled RIM's $450 million infringement settlement agreement with Virginia patent holding firm NTP is unenforceable, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) ruled that one of the five patents at the center of the long-running dispute is invalid.

The PTO ruling, however, is not final and NTP is expected to contest the decision.

Because of the preliminary nature of the PTO ruling, the door is still wide open for Virginia-based NTP to press for a larger settlement or to seek enforcement of an injunction to cut off BlackBerry service in the United States.

The settlement could reach as much as $1 billion.

If a settlement can't be reached, RIM said Wednesday it was "preparing software workaround designs, which it intends to implement if necessary to maintain the operation of BlackBerry services in the United States."

The workaround solution drew a skeptical response Friday from Eatoni Ergonomics, a New York-based company that develops advanced software for handheld devices.

"We are skeptical about RIM's ability to implement a workaround that will provide the same level of service that Blackberry customers have come to expect," Howard Gutowitz, Eatoni's CEO, said in a statement.

Gutowitz questioned whether a workaround would simply result in more infringement claims.

"We also question whether [RIM] won't once again violate others' intellectual property rights -- a persistent issue for RIM that it continues to ignore," Gutowitz said. "RIM's arrogance in consistently ignoring U.S. patent protections is getting quite tiresome."

The courts have already determined the Canadian-based RIM infringed on at least some of NTP's patents when it rolled out the BlackBerry in 2000. RIM engaged in settlement talks with NTP earlier this year and thought it had a deal for $450 million.

NTP contended the settlement was not official and Wednesday's court decision upheld NTP's position.