Visto sues RIM for patent infringement

BlackBerry users have another patent lawsuit to worry about. Just weeks after their service was nearly shut down by a lawsuit brought by NTP Inc., the wireless e-mail devices are now being threatened by legal action brought by software provider Visto Corp.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Visto claims that Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM’s) BlackBerry service violates four Visto patents. The lawsuit does not seek financial compensation from RIM, but it asks the court to shut down BlackBerry’s service in the U.S.

The patents in question relate to the accessing and synchronizing of information over a network and are fundamental to the BlackBerry service, said Brian Bogosian, Visto’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, speaking during a Monday conference call. “RIM should not be able to sell the BlackBerry system,” he said.

Visto’s lawsuit was filed on the same day a Texas jury awarded the company US$3.6 million in a similar patent lawsuit against competitor Seven Networks Inc. Three of the four patents in the RIM lawsuit were also invoked in the Seven Networks lawsuit, Visto said.

RIM downplayed the significance of the Seven Networks decision. “Visto’s patent claims as directed against Seven Networks refer to a different type of system than RIM’s technology,” the BlackBerry vendor said in a statement. “RIM believes it does not infringe Visto’s patents.”

RIM is considering a patent counter-suit against Visto, the company said.

Founded in 1996, Visto’s e-mail and calendaring applications are used by more than 200,000 customers worldwide, and are available through a number of wireless services including those of AT&T Inc., Bell Canada Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC.

Though Visto alleges that RIM has been violating its patents for years, the company had a couple of reasons for waiting until now to file the lawsuit, Bogosian said. Visto, which is also suing Microsoft Corp. and Good Technology Inc. for violating some of these same patents, did not want to “dilute” its legal resources by launching the suit before the Seven Network judgment, he said.

RIM settled its long-running legal battle with NTP in March, paying NTP $612.5 million to settle all of its claims.

This settlement was also a factor in Visto’s decision to move forward with its own lawsuit, Bogosian said. “There was a very significant and real risk that RIM would be shut down,” he said. “In our opinion, it did not make sense to launch a litigation at that time.”

Visto is now ready for a “protracted battle” against the BlackBerry maker, Bogosian said. The company, based in Redwood Shores, California, has no plans to launch similar lawsuits outside of the U.S., he added.

Either way, a resolution in this matter could be years away. It may take until the middle of 2007 for “material court proceedings” to begin, RIM said.

Bogosian also left the door open to the possibility of a settlement that would not involve a BlackBerry shutdown, provided “a reasonable resolution” could be found. “We’re also business people,” he said.

“RIM does not expect its customers to be impacted by Visto’s complaint,” the company said.

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