RIM heading back to court

On Tuesday the decision was made by Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. to challenge a jury verdict that convicted the company of patent infringement back in November of last year.

A Virginia jury found in favour of NTP Inc. back in November 2002 and awarded the company US$23 million after it found RIM had “wilfully” infringed upon patents held by NTP.

Now, the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has determined that certain relevant patents and publications not previously considered raises new questions as to the claims of the NTP patents. Of the eight patents listed in the original complaint, only five patents were litigated during the jury trial and four of the five patents litigated have now been ordered to be re-examined, RIM said.

During the last several years, the BlackBerry device maker has made waves for its fetish for lawsuits. Last year, RIM filed a total of four separate suits against Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Good Technologies over allegations of “unfair competition” and patent infringements.

Also in 2002, the company filed suit against rival Handspring Inc. over allegations that its Treo device infringed upon a RIM patent. That suit was subsequently dropped after it agreed to use RIM’s keyboard. Recent reports have suggested that the two companies may work together to make Handspring’s wireless products compatible with RIM’s software.

Jeremy Depow, senior analyst at the Ottawa-based Yankee Group in Canada, said the market for wireless devices is slowing and that the market for the BlackBerry is relatively small. He estimated that there are approximately 260,000 devices being used by top-level executives who can afford to shell out the $800 to buy the device. He noted that competition for RIM is increasing from both Handspring and Palm’s devices.

In North America, the last decade has seen a marked rise in the number of cases of copyright and software infringement. The rules between Canada and the U.S. state once a company or person has created something considered patentable, a file for that patent must be completed within one year of any published disclosures for that invention, explained Arun Menon, associate lawyer in the intellectual property and IT at Keyser, Mason, Ball, LLP in Mississauga, Ont. And with varying factors that determine whether a patent is valid or not, it’s no shock that litigation suits, such as with RIM, are on the rise.

“E-commerce software type patents have been on the rise for the past ten years. Litigation over such patents has been increasing. There are a lot of Canadian businesses that would be doing something where they would receive a letter from an American company stating that your software or business process is infringing on our (numbered) patent,” Menon said.

RIM is online at www.rim.com.