RealTime IT News

'Don't Panic'? RIM Sued Again

UPDATED: Research In Motion (RIM), which escaped the threat of a shutdown in March, is in the legal cross-hairs again. This time, competitor Visto is asking a U.S. District Court to shut down stateside sales of the company's BlackBerry.

In a lawsuit filed in the Marshall Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Visto charges RIM violated four patents covering applications found in many portable e-mail devices, such as RIM's BlackBerry.

Charging RIM violated patents governing access to "Workspace Elements" and synchronization of data by a "Workspace Data Manager," Visto asks that RIM be "preliminarily and permanently enjoined" from making, importing or selling BlackBerries.

In addition to a request that RIM destroy any products using the patented technology, Visto is asking for unspecified damages.

"RIM must understand that there is no place in the mobile e-mail space for this sort of behavior," said Brian Bogosian, president and CEO of Visto, in a statement. "RIM should not be able to sell the BlackBerry system."

While Visto's lawsuit against RIM seeks monetary damages, Bogosian told reporters he isn't looking for royalties from RIM.

In a statement, RIM said it believes Visto's patents are invalid and said it would challenge the patent claims, as well as consider asserting its own patents against Visto.

RIM said it does not expect customers to be impacted by the complaint and believes it "unlikely" the lawsuit would proceed before mid-2007.

Daniel Mendez, Visto co-founder and senior vice president, said RIM has been aware of Visto's patents "for years."

In March, RIM paid Virginia-based NTP $612.5 million to settle a long-running court fight and claims of patent infringement. The settlement came on the eve of a court-ordered shutoff of e-mail service for BlackBerry users.

One analyst believes the newest court challenge will not be a repeat of the long-running battle with NTP.

Unlike NTP, Visto has a more foundational case, argued the analyst. While Dulaney described Visto's mobile e-mail products as "marginally successful," they have products. "They won a court case."

Visto Friday won a $3.6 million court victory against Seven Networks in the same Texas court that will hear the RIM case. The Seven case spurred Visto to launch its attack on RIM.

"Our case against RIM is based on similar technology law and patents as the case we have just won in federal court against Seven Networks," said Bogosian in a statement.

The U.S. District Court in Texas is also the venue for other patent-infringement cases brought by Visto.

In January, it sued Good Technology, whose solutions are available on Palm and Windows mobile platforms.

And in December, it alleged that Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0 infringes on three patents.

Visto seeks unspecified damages and wants to prohibit Microsoft from using the patents.

The Texas court is very pro-patent, said Dulaney. "I want to use the description of a 'hanging judge.'"

But don't call Visto a patent troll. The company bristles at charges it is another NTP looking to profit from stale technology. Although Visto licenses NTP technology, Bogosian denied NTP was offering legal assistance in this case.

"These aren't things we've kept in a three-ring binder gathering dust somewhere," Bogosian said.

Bogosian said the U.S. Patent Office recently reviewed patent 6,085,192, which handles securely synchronizing multiple copies of a workspace element in a network Visto patent.

Ultimately, it's too early to tell what the RIM-Visto outcome could be.

"Nobody should get in a panic," advises Dulaney. BlackBerry users should continue with business as usual.

However, the analyst calls Visto's patent claims "scary if true" because synchronization covers every device from a PDA to cell phone to Apple's iTunes.

"If I were a RIM customer I would be concerned," said Bill Hughes, an In-Stat analyst.

On the other hand Visto's customers, mainly wireless carriers, love the loyalty of BlackBerry customers. For that reason, Visto customers may urge the company to settle with RIM, he added.

RIM believes no action will be seen until mid-2007. Dulaney foresees an even longer wait. Regardless, Visto, intends to remain patient.

"We are prepared for the long fight," said Bogosian.