The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a request with a federal court in Virginia asking the judge presiding over the patent suit between NTP Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd. to keep the device makers BlackBerry wireless e-mail service in operation.
The Justice Department requested that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia refrain from shutting down RIMs e-mail service in order to prevent government workers dependent on the wireless communications system from losing support for their handhelds.
The motion to delay the potential BlackBerry shutdown would keep RIMs e-mail system live for another 90 days if granted, as RIM continues to appeal the courts ruling in favor of NTP.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a motion by RIM to suspend the case and a service shutdown, pending its request for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts subsequently rejected RIMs request to stay the lower courts ruling while the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear the appeal.
The patent squabble dates back to 2002, when NTP first won its suit against RIM for infringing on a handful of patents related to wireless text communications systems and RIM was ordered to stop selling, using or importing its BlackBerry handhelds and server software in the U.S. Under the terms of the ruling, RIM was granted permission to continue to market and operate its wireless e-mail service while it appealed the courts decision, but the company now appears to be running out of options to that end.
RIM representatives had no comment available on the patent suit or the DOJ filing.
The Department of Justice, which didnt immediately respond to calls seeking comment on the request, did not indicate how many government workers it believes to be using BlackBerry services, but RIM has reported previously that as many as 10 percent of its 3 million U.S. subscribers are employed by state and federal authorities.
NTP has promised to provide continued support for affected BlackBerry users, but the DOJ said in its filing that it believes it may be hard for the companies to easily identify which RIM customers are government workers. As a result of the situation, the government said in its legal brief that "there may be a substantial public interest that may be impaired" by the proposed BlackBerry blackout.
RIM and NTP reached a $450 million settlement on the dispute in March, but the deal fell apart in June. As part of its appeal the Canada-based device maker is seeking to have the courts enforce the earlier settlement agreement.