RIM chief calls for patent reform

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

The Ontario-based RIM, maker of the popular BlackBerry wireless device, is encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this month saying courts need to look at several factors instead of awarding near-automatic injunctions against the sale of products found to infringe patents, said Jim Balsillie, RIM’s chairman and co-chief executive officer, during a speech Wednesday. The court sided with eBay Inc. in a patent infringement case brought by online auction company MercExchange LLC.

But Balsillie, whose company agreed in March to pay US$612.5 million to NTP Inc. to settle a patent infringement claim, also called on the U.S. government to push intellectual property protections worldwide. Asked by an audience member how small software vendors could protect their products in countries with high software piracy rates, Balsillie said the U.S. government needs to push for intellectual property protections while it’s at its “pinnacle of influence.”

“You have a great opportunity to lead, and there’s a great need for leading these issues globally,” said Balsillie, who spoke before the Potomac Officers Club, a networking organization for Washington, D.C., area business executives.

However, it’s too easy for people in the U.S. to blame governments in China and Russia for software piracy, Balsillie added. Piracy is as much a “human condition” as a government-driven condition, he said, and many residents of other countries face harsher economic conditions than people in the U.S. “This is not the same kind of wealth,” he said.

Talking of U.S. patent reform efforts, Balsillie praised the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for looking at ways to speed up the patent re-examination process and the U.S. Congress for considering bills to improve the process for granting patents.

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

Critics of patent reform efforts, including independent inventors, have questioned the need for patent reform. Efforts to take away patent injunctions and limit the scope of patents allow large companies to steal the patents of small inventors without fear of punishment, some small inventors have said.

After his speech, an audience member asked him to predict the future of video over wireless devices, and he said it will have some uses, but it also faces a number of limitations. Wireless data applications are just at the beginning of their potential, but wireless spectrum has limited capacity, and wireless devices have limited power supplies and storage, he said. He predicted some wireless services will soon begin to charge extra for large-bandwidth applications such as video.

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

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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