Sunday, June 19, 2005

Adverse patent re-exam result for NTP

Forbes reports an action unfavorable to NTP in a patent re-examination.

from Forbes:

The patent in question was the fifth in a row rejected by the patent office. Only three remain to be reexamined. The patent office had initiated the review of four of the disputed patents in January 2003 [ie, director-ordered re-exam], while Research In Motion [RIM] requested a review of others. The patents are owned by NTP, a holding company founded by Thomas Campagna, an inventor who died in June 2004.

The latest patent-office rejection appears to be setting the stage for a potential nullification of the entire set of patents at the heart of the dispute between NTP and RIM. It also opens up the possibility that their multiyear lawsuit--which the two parties agreed to settle last March--may turn out to be moot.

The rejection of the patents is not final. NTP will have the opportunity to appeal and convince the patent examiners that they have erred. The rejection essentially means that patent examiners believe the original patents never should have been awarded in the first place, and begins a process under which the patents may be overturned entirely. Such an action would only strengthen RIM's hand in court.

The decision is the latest turn in a three-year-old case that gets ever more confusing by the day. Last week the two companies announced they had reached an impasse in negotiating unspecified points of their settlement agreement, which would have had RIM paying NTP $450 million for unfettered use of the five patents that NTP claimed RIM had infringed.

RIM has since returned to court to enforce the terms of the agreement reached in March. Meanwhile, NTP said that if a settlement can't be reached, it intends to seek an injunction that would shut down RIM's BlackBerry wireless e-mail service in the United States.

RIM co-Chief Executive James L. Balsillie declined to comment on Friday's patent rejection, but said that he considered the settlement between RIM and NTP to still be in force.

"We are not trying to get out of the deal," Balsillie said. "We consider this thing behind us. That money to me is gone. It's very hard for me to figure this one out. It's not like we're saying we don't want to pay them."

A lawyer for NTP could not be reached for comment.

Balsillie also said that in the event that RIM does not ultimately prevail in its effort to enforce what it considers to be a binding settlement with NTP, it has developed a workaround that would allow a BlackBerry wireless device to function without infringing on any of the disputed patents.

"We're asking the court to enforce the agreement," Balsillie said. "And if that doesn't happen, there are other legal processes to follow. And if they don't come through for us, there is a workaround." He declined to describe the workaround in any detail.

RIM's apparent good news on the patent dispute front was tempered by a brief failure of its BlackBerry wireless-messaging network, which suffered an outage on Friday. Service to hundreds of thousands of BlackBerry users was interrupted. A RIM spokeswoman confirmed the outage, and said that it had been corrected for the majority of the customers affected within two hours. A reason for the outage was not given.

RIM says there are some 3 million BlackBerry users around the world.


Post a Comment

<< Home