RIM rival defends US patent office

Despite recent criticism of the U.S. Patent and TrademarkOffice, including sharp words from push e-mail provider Research InMotion Ltd. (RIM), a cofounder of Visto Corp. says the patentoffice has been a great success.

RIM, the BlackBerry maker that recently agreed to pay US$612million to settle a long-running patent infringement case, placedan advertisement in several newspapers this week thanking itssupporters and also saying the patent system is in need ofchange.

“As to the lingering question of why the patent system shouldallow such a bizarre set of circumstances to threaten millions ofAmerican consumers in the first place, we share your concern,” thecompany wrote.

While he contends that there’s always room for improvement,Daniel Mendez, Visto co-founder and chief strategy officer, defendsthe patent office. “At any point in time people look at [the patentoffice] and say it’s broken, it’s a disaster, it needs to berevamped, but if you judge by the results, they’re fantastic,” hesaid. The U.S. patent office for around 200 years has presided overmore innovation than any other country within the same time frame,he said.

RIM agreed to settle its patent dispute with NTP Inc. earlierthis month, even though the patent office had preliminarily ruledthat the NTP patents were invalid. Due to what RIM calls aloophole, the legal battle was allowed to progress regardless ofthe patent office rulings.

Visto has clearly worked the existing patent office system toits benefit. Over the past few years, Visto has filed patentinfringement suits against many of the leading push e-mail players,including Infowave Software Inc., Seven Networks Inc., GoodTechnology Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Most of the suits are stilloutstanding except for Infowave, which settled in 2004, agreeing tolicense Visto’s software.

Perhaps in a show of solidarity against RIM, late last yearVisto signed a licensing agreement with NTP, which also acquired anequity stake in Visto.

All this litigation among push e-mail companies points to amarket with large potential, Mendez said. The litigation ishappening because there are a couple companies that have beenaround for many years, yet the market is only now showingsignificant potential, drawing new competitors in, he said.

“That’s a confluence of circumstances that you see veryinfrequently, and that’s why there is more turmoil in this space,”he said.

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