Today is D-Day for Research in Motion (RIM), with the fate of its U.S.
Blackberry wireless e-mail service hanging in the balance.
After years of appeals following a patent infringement verdict against RIM
by Virginia patent-holding firm NTP, U.S. District Judge James Spencer is
scheduled to begin penalty deliberations against the Canadian-based RIM,
including a possible shutdown of the service.
Spencer ordered an injunction in 2003 after a jury found RIM guilty of
patent infringement, but he delayed the order until RIM exhausted its appeals.
Today is the day, and RIM is facing the possibility of plunging its
approximately 3 million U.S. users into the dark.
If Spencer orders an
injunction, it is likely the court would give RIM up to 90 days to make
arrangements for the injunction and for users to find another wireless
NTP has said in the past it would ask the court to not extend the injunction
to government workers, but a BlackBerry shutdown could affect scores of
contractors who do business with the government.
However, all is not gloom and doom for RIM, beginning with the fact that Spencer
is not obligated to impose an injunction.
And on Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officially
rejected all of NTP’s patent claims against RIM. The decision, according to
RIM, effectively nullifies any future appeals to the USPTO by NTP.
NTP said Thursday RIM was “mischaracterizing” the USPTO ruling.
“The courts have consistently, and repeatedly, rejected RIM’s assertions
regarding invalidity,” NTP said in a statement. “With the Supreme Court’s January refusal to hear
RIM’s request for review, the issue is not whether NTP’s patent claims are
valid — they are. The issue is what is the proper compensation for RIM’s
use of those patents.
“Unfortunately, RIM refuses
to accept the Supreme Court’s decision as the final word.”
The statement added, “Since the federal court system has the final ‘say’ in
the matter, RIM’s assertions that the patents have been invalidated are
flatly wrong. The validity of the patents is not affected by preliminary
PTO office actions.”
The possibility of a U.S. shutdown of BlackBerry services has a lot of
companies worried since a national injunction would leave little time for
But a surprisingly small number of companies have actually switched from
RIM to an alternative messaging platform said Todd Kort, a principal analyst
at Gartner and co-author of a recent report on the RIM-NTP case.
According to Kort, four of approximately 80 companies have made the switch to an alternative platform.
Kort said cost, which may run as high as $1,000 per
device, is one reason companies may be holding off. Another is the issues associated with retraining and familiarizing users with a new device.
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