RIM fights for appeal of BlackBerry injunction

The popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device does not infringe upon patents held by NTP Inc. for a wireless communications system, lawyers for Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) argued before a U.S. federal appeals court Monday.

The appeal, if granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, would allow RIM to continue selling the BlackBerry device and avoid paying NTP US$54 million in damages. In 2002, a jury found that RIM willingly infringed upon patents held by NTP.

RIM’s appeal centres around what it claims were procedural errors by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, including the misinterpretation of NTP’s patents and the relevance of U.S. patents to a system partially contained in Canada, according to a copy of its brief provided by NTP’s lawyers.

Tom Campana developed a wireless communications system for his pager company that he later patented, and the BlackBerry infringes upon that patent, said James Wallace, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP in Washington, D.C., representing NTP. NTP was incorporated to hold Campana’s patents, and does not make any products or provide any services, he said.

RIM’s lawyers argued that Campana’s wireless communications systems only allowed users to read and print e-mail, while the BlackBerry allows users to reply and forward corporate e-mail on a wireless handheld device, RIM said in its brief. The district court improperly interpreted this and other aspects of the patent claims as broader than specified in that patent, the company said.

RIM’s attorney, Henry Bunsow, of Howrey Simon Arnold & White LLP in San Francisco, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Under a proper claim construction and statutory interpretation, the accused products and services avoid infringement as a matter of law,” RIM argued in its brief.

RIM also argued that since a key component of its wireless e-mail system resides in Canada, U.S. patent law does not apply. The relay, or the portion of RIM’s network that distributes wireless e-mail, is located in Canada. RIM is based in Waterloo, Ont.

NTP asked the appeals court to uphold the lower court’s ruling and enforce the injunction imposed by the lower court, Wallace said.

“In a transparent attempt to manufacture a defense to NTP’s overwhelming infringement case, RIM now seeks to obscure the invention claimed in the Campana patents; to burden NTP’s claims with unstated and unjustified limitations; to evade infringement by locating in Canada a single component of the BlackBerry System widely sold and used in the United States; and to quibble with the District Court’s fully-justified evidentiary rulings,” NTP said in its response to RIM’s brief.

A panel of three judges will now decide whether to grant the appeal, Wallace said. The process could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months, he said.

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