The U.S. Justice Department on Feb. 1 asked a federal judge to refrain from an injunction shutting down BlackBerry e-mail service until government workers can be assured that they will be exempted from a possible shutdown.
But meanwhile, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion maintains that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the BlackBerry service running for some customers and not others.
"We believe that there are still a number of serious questions to be answered as to how an injunction can be implemented so as to continue BlackBerry service for governmental and other excepted groups," the Justice Department said in a legal brief filed to a federal court in Virginia, where RIMs fate hangs in the balance.
Holding company NTP sued Research in Motion for alleged patent infringement on nine wireless e-mail patents in 2001. U.S. District Judge James Spencer ruled in favor of NTP in 2003, instructing RIM to halt its sales of BlackBerry devices and services in the United States until NTPs patents run out in 2012.
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Spencer stayed the ruling, however, pending appeal. Since then, the case has gone through several appeals and failed settlement attempts.
In the meantime, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been re-evaluating several of the disputed patents for months. The USPTO has indicated that it intends to reject all of NTPs claims eventually, in which the case would be null and void.
Industry experts said the process could take several months, though, as NTP has voiced plans to appeal every decision it can. To that end, Spencer has said that he doesnt plan to wait for the Patent Office. He has set a hearing for Feb. 24.
Both RIM and NTP filed briefings to the court on Feb. 1. Aware that BlackBerries are prevalent among Federal employees, NTP repeated its previous contention that the injunction it is seeking should exclude government workers.
Bolstered by the DOJ filing, RIM argued that a shutdown injunction would hurt the public good even if there were exemptions. NTP essentially accused RIM of promoting mass hysteria.
"This injunction shall not apply in any aspect to products or services used by the United States government, or for the United States government with its authorization and consent, or by any state or local government, the twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks, or certified nongovernmental first-responder entities including the Red Cross, ambulance service operators, utility company service crews, volunteer fire departments or other emergency services," reads a Feb. 1 filing from NTPs legal team.