BlackBerry too important to shut

A judge should not shut down Research in Motion (RIM) Ltd.’sBlackBerry mobile e-mail service in the U.S., even though a juryruled that it infringes another company’s patent, becauseBlackBerry devices play a “crucial role” in important industriessuch as hospitals, utilities and banks, RIM’s lawyers argued incourt Friday.

Even with an exemption allowing government workers to continueto use BlackBerry service, a court injunction against RIM in itslegal battle with NTP Inc. would harm the public interest bycutting off important private businesses and limiting governmentworkers’ ability to communicate with private citizens, HenryBunsow, a RIM lawyer, said in U.S. District Court for the EasternDistrict of Virginia.

After half a day of arguments, Judge James Spencer didn’t ruleon the injunction requested by patent holder NTP Inc., but at thesame time the hearing was happening in Richmond, Virginia, the U.S.Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that an NTP wirelesse-mail central in the case is invalid.

Recent USPTO rulings rejecting this key patent and other patentsin the lawsuit don’t cancel out the August 2003 jury ruling in thecase, but Bunsow argued that Spencer should consider the USPTO’sactions while ruling on an injunction.

Bunsow showed the judge letters from hospitals, an organtransplant service, the American Gas Association and other groupssaying BlackBerry devices were important to their work. “All ofthese people’s service would go dark,” Bunsow said. “There simplyare no reliable alternatives to the BlackBerry system.”

Spencer noted that RIM has told investors it has a workaroundfor the technology that NTP claims. He expressed surprise that,despite the workaround, the company argued in court that the”foundations of Western civilization will be shaken” if he approvesan injunction against the company selling its products in the U.S.Injunctions against the use of the patented inventions are a commonlegal tool in patent infringement cases.

Spencer also heard arguments about whether he should adjust the$126 million NTP says it’s owed after a U.S. appeals court sent thecase back to him on one key claim.

“I’m surprised, absolutely surprised, that you’d leave this …incredibly important decision to the court,” he said. “In plainwords, the case should’ve been settled, but it hasn’t,” Spencersaid.

Spencer did not indicate when he would make a decision, but saida ruling on damages would likely happen before a decision about theinjunction.

NTP lawyer James Wallace said an injunction is needed becauseRIM continues to act like a “squatter” even after the August 2003jury verdict in Virginia and after the U.S. Supreme Court inJanuary decided not to hear RIM’s appeal.

“RIM’s conduct continues in the face of the jury verdict … andin the face of being rebuffed by the chief justice and the entireU.S. Supreme Court,” he said.

Wallace also noted RIM’s claims of a work-around for the NTPpatents. RIM could use the work-around to make sure governmentagencies have access to BlackBerry service, he said. Wallace askedthe judge to enforce the injunction and give users 30 days to makeother arrangements, saying several competing wireless e-maildevices now exist.

Bunsow said RIM’s work-around would take millions of hours toimplement.

In December 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the FederalCircuit rejected an earlier injunction issued by the Virginiadistrict court. The district court issued the original injunctionin August 2003 but stayed the ruling pending appeal.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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