RIM reveals work-around software for BlackBerry

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) on Thursday announced that it has developed and tested software that would enable it to continue to offer its wireless e-mail service to BlackBerry users if a court orders RIM to shut down the current form of the service in the U.S.

The work-around has been the subject of much speculation because RIM had said it was developing such software but had been reluctant to describe how the new system would work. Now RIM says it has tested the software that it will ship on BlackBerry devices going forward and that it will make available for download by current users if necessary. The software will support the service as it currently works but it won’t rely on technologies based on patents held by NTP Inc., the company with which RIM is involved in a lengthy legal battle.

A court recently ruled that RIM had infringed on NTP patents. However, in an unusual turn of events, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has preliminarily ruled that all of the relevant NTP patents are invalid. Until the USPTO makes final judgments on those patents, though, the court battle continues. That includes a ruling that could force RIM to turn off its service in the U.S. In late February, a judge is expected to decide if RIM should be ordered to shut down its service based on a request from NTP.

RIM said it still believes there’s a good chance the judge won’t order the service shut off but that it developed the work-around as a contingency plan.

RIM has filed a patent application for the work-around software, which it said offers the same functions and performance as the existing service but doesn’t use technology described in NTP’s patents.

RIM will soon begin to include the new software on new devices, which will run on the existing software platform unless RIM is ordered to shut down its service. In that case, RIM can remotely activate the work-around software from its network operations center.

If RIM is ordered to shut down its service and if that order applies to existing users, RIM will post the new software on a Web site where it can be downloaded and implemented.

The legal battle between RIM and NTP has been closely watched by IT departments, especially those that support the wireless e-mail service for executives. Some analysts have advised IT departments to create their own contingency plans in case the RIM service is shut down.

The situation has spurred a feeding frenzy of sorts among other push e-mail providers that are keen to step in where RIM could leave a void. Companies including Visto Corp., Good Technology Inc., Microsoft Corp., DataViz Inc. and Nokia Corp. are among the businesses offering push e-mail.

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