RIM, NTP and Patent Madness

 
 
By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2006-02-24 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Opinion: Is this a great country or what that millions of users and a billion-dollar company can be held hostage by a court that's taking seriously patents that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already rejected?

If there are still people who doubt the essential stupidity of software patents, they havent been following RIM vs. NTP. Three million U.S. business users live and die by their RIM BlackBerrys. The U.S. Department of Justice asked the federal court in Virginia to keep BlackBerry wireless e-mail service going because government workers need it.
The court, however, turned down the Department of Justices request. And on Feb. 24, the judge who has kept NTPs action going is considering granting NTP an injunction that would shut down the mobile e-mail service.
The basis for all this? Five patents. Five, if I may say so, bad, lousy patents. But who cares what I think? What should count for something is that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office has re-evaluated the contested patents and rejected all of them!
Yes, these initial rejections were "non-final rejections." Yes, NTP has already appealed these rejections. And how is NTP doing? On Feb. 22, the USPTO issued a final rejection for one of the patents, and eWEEK has just learned that the office has slam-dunked another patent with a final rejection. Click here to read more about RIMs latest legal victory. The remaining three? The USPTO has made it clear from its public statements that it plans to reject all of NTPs patents. In short, businesses, the federal government and a multibillion dollar e-mail business are being held hostage by NTP, its five bad patents and Judge James Spencer of the Eastern District Court of Virginia, who denied RIMs request to stay a possible injunction pending the USPTOs final decision on all of these patents, which is probably months away. What kind of garbage is this? Before these patents were discredited, RIM was willing to pay $450 million to the patent holding company as long as NTP granted "RIM and its customers an unfettered right to continue its BlackBerry-related wireless business without further interference from NTP or its patents." Almost half a billion smackers wasnt good enough for NTP, so talks broke down. So here we are. A major business and a vital part of American business communications are hanging by a thread because of software patents that everyone, except for NTP and one judge, realizes are garbage. NTP, on the other hand, like other patent trolls, has nothing to lose. It has no customers and no products. NTP does nothing except collect licensing fees and sue companies that dont pay it off. A patent troll, according to Peter Detkin, the former assistant general counsel for Intel who coined the phrase, "is somebody who tries to make a lot of money off a patent that they are not practicing and have no intention of practicing and in most cases never practiced." Thats NTP with its RIM shakedown to a T. This isnt the Sopranos, though. What NTP is doing is completely legal. Its just also completely wrong (/article2/0,1895,1666755,00.asp). Read more here about why software patents are bad for everyone. Because of the fatally flawed U.S. patent system, NTP and many other companies are preventing good ideas from becoming good products and services. And, as in RIMs case, patent trolls are making existing products and services more expensive for all of us. Im not the only one who thinks so. Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, said, "An injunction would give free reign to patent trolls. We are in danger of devolving into an era where technology companies expend their energy on legal battles rather than innovation. Shareholder value will decline and the best interests of the market will be ignored." Exactly. But even if RIM or other "trolled" companies win, well still have to pay more for our technology. After all, RIM will still have to pay millions in legal fees. Where will that money come from? Why, from every BlackBerry subscribers pocket, of course. This is only going to continue, unless we demand of our congressmen that they realize, as the Public Patent Foundation has pointed out, that todays wrongly issued patents and unsound patent policies are harming the public. Once they finally get those ideas in their heads, they can give the patent system the top-to-bottom reform it sorely needs. When that day comes, I hope, I really hope, that they just kill the idea of patenting software once and for all. It does no one any good except for the patent trolls. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
 
 
 
 
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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