Blockbuster patent battle comes to a head today

In the patent case of the century, the day of the reckoning istoday — Friday, February 24. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office(USPTO) has issued a final rejection of one of five patents at thecore of the court case and is expected to invalidate all ofthem.

Depending on what a U.S. court decides, it could be a blackFriday for either BlackBerry vendor, Waterloo, Ont.-based Researchin Motion Ltd. (RIM), or NTP Inc., in Arlington, Va. – the twocontenders in what has morphed into a blockbuster legal battle.

About two years ago RIM lost a patent infringement lawsuit in aU.S. court brought by NTP Inc. The court awarded NTP damagesamounting to US$53.7 million and issued an injunction that wouldshut down the operation of the BlackBerry network in the U.S.

RIM got a stay of execution for the injunction, which NTP isseeking to have reimposed today.

NTP wants royalties from RIM for the BlackBerry service. “Wehave said that we are more than willing to license RIM on areasonable royalty-paid-up basis,” said Jim Wallace, a lawyer withWiley Rein & Fielding LLP in Washington and lead trialcounsel for NTP. “RIM has the keys to its own jail.”

RIM, however, disputes NTP’s patent claims and wants the earlierinjunction to be set aside.

Today’s court proceedings could have huge ramifications.

A decision in favour of NTP could shut down RIM’s BlackBerrynetwork and service to four million wireless e-mail subscribers.(Industry insiders, however, argue an actual shutdown is highlyunlikely. They predict that if the case clearly tilts in favour ofNTP, RIM will either settle at the last minute or introducetechnology to work around NTP’s patents).

On the other hand, a win for RIM would avert the impendingshutdown of its BlackBerry service and buy the company time tonegotiate a settlement with NTP.

As it stands, it does seem that RIM has some strong arguments inits favour:

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