RIM chief calls for patent reform

The U.S. government ismoving in the right direction with its efforts to reform its patentprocess by making it tougher for companies claiming infringement toget court injunctions, said a top executive at Research In Motion(RIM) Ltd., which settled its own patent fight inMarch.

The Ontario-based RIM, makerof the popular BlackBerry wireless device, is encouraged by theU.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this month saying courts need to lookat several factors instead of awarding near-automatic injunctionsagainst the sale of products found to infringe patents, said JimBalsillie, RIM’s chairman and co-chief executive officer, during aspeech Wednesday. The court sided with eBay Inc. in a patentinfringement case brought by online auction company MercExchangeLLC.

But Balsillie, whose companyagreed in March to pay US$612.5 million to NTP Inc. to settle apatent infringement claim, also called on the U.S. government topush intellectual property protections worldwide. Asked by anaudience member how small software vendors could protect theirproducts in countries with high software piracy rates, Balsilliesaid the U.S. government needs to push for intellectual propertyprotections while it’s at its “pinnacle ofinfluence.”

“You have a greatopportunity to lead, and there’s a great need for leading theseissues globally,” said Balsillie, who spoke before the PotomacOfficers Club, a networking organization for Washington, D.C., areabusiness executives.

However, it’s too easy forpeople in the U.S. to blame governments in China and Russia forsoftware piracy, Balsillie added. Piracy is as much a “humancondition” as a government-driven condition, he said, and manyresidents of other countries face harsher economic conditions thanpeople in the U.S. “This is not the same kind of wealth,” hesaid.

Talking of U.S. patentreform efforts, Balsillie praised the U.S. Patent and TrademarkOffice for looking at ways to speed up the patent re-examinationprocess and the U.S. Congress for considering bills to improve theprocess for granting patents.

The U.S. government ismaking “tremendous progress” in improving its patent system,Balsillie said. “It’s got much, much more to go,” headded.

Critics of patent reformefforts, including independent inventors, have questioned the needfor patent reform. Efforts to take away patent injunctions andlimit the scope of patents allow large companies to steal thepatents of small inventors without fear of punishment, some smallinventors have said.

After his speech, anaudience member asked him to predict the future of video overwireless devices, and he said it will have some uses, but it alsofaces a number of limitations. Wireless data applications are justat the beginning of their potential, but wireless spectrum haslimited capacity, and wireless devices have limited power suppliesand storage, he said. He predicted some wireless services will soonbegin to charge extra for large-bandwidth applications such asvideo.

Some video applications willtake up the spectrum space of 150 wireless voice calls, he said.”There’s no free lunch in physics,” he added. “You can’t assumeaway your limitations.”

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