RealTime IT News

Yo, BlackBerry Users: Chill Out

BlackBerry users -- please -- take a deep breath. Get a grip. Chill.

Despite what appears to be a bleak picture for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM), odds are excellent that no injunction is going to interrupt your addictive wireless e-mail device and service.

After all, this is patent law where only the terminally tedious tread and what appears to be fact is often not.

On the face of it, NTP, the small Virginia patent-holding firm that has maintained since 2000 that RIM's popular handheld infringes on its wireless e-mail patents, holds all the cards.

NTP won a 2002 federal district court case upholding its patent infringement claims against RIM. The court awarded NTP $53 million and issued an injunction against the Canadian-based RIM from selling or marketing its products in the United States.

The court stayed the injunction until RIM exhausted its appeals.

That day arrived last October when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld seven (later reduced to five) of NTP's original patent-infringement claims.

The court also tossed out the injunction, the $53 million award and sent the case back to district court to determine new damages and the possibility of an injunction.

After settlement negotiations collapsed (RIM offered NTP $458 million) and two last-gasp legal runs by RIM at the U.S. Supreme Court failed, both sides are headed back to court on Feb. 24.

Conventional wisdom, which is located just around the corner from rumor and speculation, has it that RIM must settle between now and Feb. 24 or face the prospect of a new injunction shutting down its service. Analysts are tossing around numbers as high as $1 billion that RIM might be forced to pay NTP.

RIM, however, has a few hole cards left in its hand, not the least of which is that it is in NTP's financial best interest to settle with RIM before the case returns to court.

A billion dollars or not, the real money in this case is future royalty payments, which will amount to somewhere approximating zip if RIM is forced to pull its products off the U.S. market.

Given that, both parties seem to have compelling reasons to quit playing hardball and reach a settlement.

That's assuming, of course, the court even issues an injunction. It could decide to order a new trial in the light of the Appeals Court rejection of nine of the patents involved in the case.

If that happens, NTP will have to deal with the fact that upon re-examination, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued preliminary rulings that NTP's patents are not being infringed by RIM.

That's correct, the very same patents RIM is charged with infringing are, according to the Patent Office, no longer infringing. If those rulings hold up under inevitable appeals by NTP, RIM never infringed on NTP's patents.

In patent law, though, a judge can decide to freeze time and decide the whole issue based on 2002 facts. Or not.

"RIM believes its legal and factual arguments opposing an injunction are strong. There are compelling public interests against entry of an injunction and NTP can be fully compensated through ongoing royalty payments in lieu of an injunction," RIM spokesman Mark Guibert told internetnews.com in an e-mail.

The always-secretive NTP was unavailable for comment.

So all you anxiety-ridden BlackBerry users, the betting here is that a cutoff of service is never going to happen. Relax and go back to incessantly reading your wireless e-mail.