Patent reform too late for BlackBerry users

A Texas congressman plans to reignite his effort to reform howintellectual property disputes are conducted, such as the one beingduked out by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) and NTP. Ifthe bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is enacted, itcould protect end users from losing the right to use disputedtechnologies while a patent infringement case is beingadjudicated.

Smith is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’sSubcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Hisbill constitutes the biggest overhaul of the patent system in morethan 50 years.

An early version of the bill proposed eliminating injunctions inpatent infringement cases, such as the injunction NTP requestedagainst RIM, which, if granted, would halt BlackBerry service inthe United States. The threat of an injunction is typically enoughof an incentive to convince an alleged infringer to settle with thecompany that claims it has been damaged. But RIM has refused to doso.

However, large pharmaceutical companies rely on injunctions tostop competitors from copying drugs still under patent protection.The pharmaceutical lobby helped derail Smith’s bill last summer.Recently, however, Smith held meetings with representatives fromboth the technology and pharmaceutical industries in an attempt tofind common ground. Both groups, for example, are open to changingthe current system, which awards patent rights to whoever can provehe invented something, to a system that grants the patent to thefirst person to register an invention.

Ronald Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance,is against the bill. He says that if Congress eliminatesinjunctions–often the only legal recourse that small companies andindependent inventors have in a patent dispute–then largetechnology companies will have what amounts to grabbing rights overemerging technologies. He says his group is prepared for a “bloody”fight.

Smith says he is optimistic that he can pass the legislationthis year. But patent reform will come too late to help RIM–orBlackBerry users–in the suit with NTP. At press time a judge wasconsidering final arguments for and against NTP’s injunctionrequest.

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