Add AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel to the list of infringement targets of NTP, the Virginia patent-holding firm that forced BlackBerry maker Research in Motion into a $612.2 million settlement in 2006.
In a lawsuit filed Sept. 7, NTP claims the nations three largest carriers are violating the closely held companys wireless e-mail patents.
NTP is seeking a permanent injunction barring the carriers from making, selling or importing cell phones, smartphones, PDAs and other mobile devices that allegedly infringe on NTPs patents. Included on the list of devices is Palms popular line of Treo products.
In a separate action filed in November, NTP sued Palm for infringement over seven of the eight patents named in the carriers lawsuit. The case is currently stayed as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office re-examines the patents in question. The patents are still considered valid since NTP is appealing the re-examination.
In the carrier case, NTP is seeking not only injunctive relief but also treble damages for willful infringement. Cell phones made by Nokia, the worlds largest maker of cell phones, and Good Technology, which is now owned by Motorola, are not part of the litigation since the two signed royalty agreements with NTP in the aftermath of the RIM settlement.
"Defendant is aware that its sale and offering for sale of products and services compatible with these licensed products is covered by NTPs patents," the lawsuit states. "However, defendant, in reckless disregard of those rights, continues its infringing activities."
Spokespeople for AT&T, in San Antonio, Texas, and New York-based Verizon had no comment on the suits. Officials at Sprint, in Reston, Va., were not immediately available for comment.
Several of the patents named in the lawsuit were involved in the RIM saga that dragged through the courts for five years and generated headlines over a possible shutdown of U.S. BlackBerry service. After both a district court and an appeals court agreed the BlackBerry devices infringed on NTPs patents, RIM finally settled with NTP.
In the lawsuit against the wireless carriers, NTP cited its success in the RIM case as proof that the carriers had prior knowledge they were infringing on RIMs patents.
Click here to read more about NTPs case against Research in Motion.
"Defendant has direct knowledge from press reports and independent investigation of the merits underlying NTPs patent rights from its knowledge of the disposition of NTPs patent suit," the lawsuit states.
NTP was assigned the rights to the patents from 1995-2001. The patents broadly cover "electronic mail system[s] with RF communications to mobile processors originating outside of the electronic mail system and method of operation thereof."
In the BlackBerry case, RIM, of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, tried to show wireless e-mail systems were anticipated prior to the NTP patents, but a district judge rejected the effort.
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