• January 24, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Supreme Court Denies BlackBerry's Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal by RIM relating to patent enforcement targeted at its BlackBerry wireless email device and the server software that enables it. The appeal, a request for the court to examine whether U.S. patent law applies to the Canadian company, or whether communications technology and global business models have rendered the law obsolete, was RIM's latest attempt to defuse the patent infringement suit brought against it by intellectual property holding company NTP. The suit alleges that RIM is violating NTP's patents concerning wireless email. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has rejected numerous NTP patents related to the case, and RIM argues that the case is invalid on those grounds. NTP has indicated it could appeal the USPTO's rejections, taking a year or more, and presiding Judge James Spencer of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case is being tried, has stated that he would not wait for final rejection of the patents before ruling. By refusing to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court have indicated that the Virginia court has full jurisdiction in the matter. Spencer is expected to rule on the case in early February, and could impose an injunction against RIM when the decision is handed down. Though the decision is a tactical setback for RIM, it does not change the nature of the case, according to Ellen Daley, principal analyst for telecom and networks with Forrester Research. "This is no big surprise; the appeal was a tangential piece of the case," Daley says. "We're still in the same position of wait-and-see. The judge will probably rule in early February, and the USPTO continues to reject NTP's patents." Daley believes that the patents are too vague to be valid. "They are too broad and should never have become patents in the first place-this is the foundation of the rejections," Daley says. "Basically, they say NTP can send email wirelessly, but the technical details are spotty. Without the patents, NTP doesn't have a case." Like many other analysts, Daley doubts that the case will result in a shutdown of RIM email services, which are used by some 4.3 million people worldwide, 3 million of them in the United States. Law enforcement and healthcare workers are among the users of RIM wireless email, and U.S. government employees also have stated that a loss of the capability would weaken the government's ability to function. "NTP is pushing for a better settlement than they got before," Daley says, "and that can't happen if RIM has to cease operations." Related articles: Analysts Vary on the BlackBerry Suit
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