RIM scored a legal victory Feb. 1 when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the fifth patent at the center of RIMs legal battle with patent-holding company NTP.
The U.S.P.T.O. has now issued non-final rejections of all five patents at issue in an ongoing case that threatens to shutter BlackBerry service in the United States.
But while the Patent Office has indicated that its ultimate decisions will be rejections, the final review process could take months, according to industry experts.
Meanwhile, Judge James Spencer on Jan. 25 scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing date in the Eastern District Court of Virginia to consider a possible injunction that could shut down BlackBerry wireless e-mail service in the United States.
NTP sued RIM for alleged patent infringement on nine wireless e-mail patents in 2001. 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.
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 continues to re-evaluate the patents it issued in the first place. RIM officials remain publicly confident that the NTP patents will be eventually rejected, which would render the case null and void. But the courts do not intend to wait, as the Feb. 24 court date shows.
In November 2005, Spencer officially denied RIMs request to stay an injunction to shut down BlackBerry service, pending the Patent Offices decision.
"The Court is not persuaded that the PTO will issue final actions in RIMs favor within the next few months, as RIM asserts," he wrote in his November ruling.
"Even in the unlikely event that all final office actions were taken in the next few months, NTP, if not satisfied, could appeal the PTOs findings. Reality and past experience dictate that several years might very well pass from the time when a final office action is issued by the PTO to when the claims are finally and officially confirmed after appeals."