Report: RIM ‘Workaround’ Could be Tricky

UPDATED: A software workaround solution developed by Research in Motion (RIM) in reaction to an ongoing patent dispute and possible service shutdown next week may not be as painless for users as first believed.

While the alternative will most likely offer a “seamless” transition for most users, there may be some impact on the performance of the e-mail-routing technology due to the protocol requirements needed to make the solution work.

Implementing a solution may also take a month or longer for some companies with a heavy investment in Blackberry devices to make the entire transition. The transition will require modifications in RIM’s own network operations center (NOC) software and downloaded firmware upgrades for each and every Mobile mail device, said a research note by Gartner.

“To achieve the change, RIM must modify the NOC software and provide firmware upgrades on each Blackberry,” the report noted. “Enterprises must then qualify the workaround and upgrade their devices.”

Last week, RIM released details of a software “workaround” it claims would circumvent legal issues and provide an operations alternative should the courts impose an injunction.

The workaround involves rerouting message queuing and protocol around RIM’s network operations center, which acts as a temporary storage facility.

Instead, message traffic would flow from the e-mail server to the Blackberry Enterprise Server and then to the mobile operator and end-user device. The NOC would just handle network routing and billing and not store the messages in any way, which is a major part of NTP’s claim, said the report.

“RIM’s workaround provides a contingency for our customers and partners and a counterbalance to NTP’s threats,” said Jim Balsillie, RIM Chairman and Co-CEO, in a statement.

While users would not see a difference in the operation of their Blackberry devices, there may be some delays in message traffic because of the heavier protocol requirements needed to make the solution work, adds the report.

RIM has not addressed this issue yet. Details of the software workaround also do not specify if the alternative would be successful in handling message traffic for the U.S. for a foreign device.

RIM and NTP are scheduled to face-off on Feb. 24 when U.S. District Judge James Spencer is due to hear testimony from both sides and decide whether to impose an injunction that might pull the plug on Blackberry service within the U.S.

If the judge imposes an injunction, the courts might ask for at least a 90-day grace period for companies to comply with the ruling. However, there is the possibility the judge could rule on an immediate suspension of service, which means that any company not complying would be in violation of the law.

Despite these concerns, Gartner remains cautiously optimistic about the future of RIM, referring to the workaround solution as a “negotiating tactic,” rather than an act of technology desperation.

The Stamford, Conn.-based research company believes the case will eventually be settled, although it is advising its clients to base their immediate actions on their “tolerance for risk.”

“A large part of the workaround is a potential ploy,” Todd Kort, a principal analyst at Gartner and co-author of the assessment report, told “You can also view it as a stalling strategy since it might kick off a whole new court case if NTP challenges whether the workaround violates any patents.”

This scenario would be fine with RIM, since it could delay any decisions by six to nine months, giving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) enough time to invalidate NTP’s patents, “which is pretty likely to happen,” said Kort. RIM might still have to pay NTP the $300 million or so that was put into escrow for this case, pending a final judgment or dismissal.

The USPTO earlier this month issued an Action Closing Prosecution ruling rejecting all claims associated with NTP’s patent infringement lawsuit against RIM. The ruling includes five of the seven claims NTP alleged RIM infringed upon in earlier actions.

“RIM remains pragmatic and reasonable in its willingness to enter into a settlement that would generously compensate NTP while protecting RIM’s business and partners,” said Balsillie.

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