As the legal case against BlackBerry maker Research In Motion drags on, RIMs competitors have begun to turn their litigious attention on each other.
Visto on Jan. 31 announced that it is suing Good Technology for patent infringement.
The suit, alleging infringement of four wireless e-mail patents held by Visto, was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas. The suit alleges that several of Goods products, including Goods signature GoodLink push e-mail server, infringe on Vistos patents.
"Vistos commitment to providing our customers with world-class remote e-mail and data access services depends on our ability to protect the intellectual property that we worked tirelessly to develop almost a decade ago," said Brian Bogosian, chairman and CEO of Visto, in a statement.
Good officials declined to comment.
Visto is not new to lawsuits. The company sued RIM competitors Infowave and Seven in Sept. 2003. Infowave settled with Visto out of court; the case with Seven is expected to go to trial in the Eastern District Court of Texas in a few months, Visto officials said.
More recently, Visto filed against Microsoft on December 15, alleging that Microsofts Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system also infringed on Vistos patents.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 14, Visto signed a technology licensing agreement with NTP, the patent-holding company suing RIM for patent infringement. NTP also has licensing agreements with Good, and holds stakes in both Good and Visto.
"We took this step primarily because we wanted people to be able to use our products without having to worry," said Daniel Méndez, co-founder and senior vice president at Visto.
"We didnt spend a lot of time figuring out what the merits were. We just wanted to make sure our customers were protected … We remain the company that is unencumbered from IP litigation and we offer our customers something that nobody else can offer."
That said, NTP also has licensing agreements with Good, and holds stakes in both Good and Visto.
NTP sued RIM 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.
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 spent months re-evaluating several of the disputed patents. The USPTO has indicated that it intends to reject all of NTPs claims eventually, which would make the case null and void, and RIM officials have remained publicly positive that this will happen.
Industry experts said the process could take several months, though, as NTP has voiced plans to appeal every decision it can. Judge Spencer has said he does not intend to wait for the Patent Office before he issues a final ruling.
On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court refused to hear RIMs appeal to stay the case pending the Patent Offices decisions. On Jan. 25, Judge Spencer set a Feb. 24 hearing date in the Eastern District Court of Virginia to consider a possible injunction that could shutter BlackBerry service.
Mendez said Vistos patent claims are, well, patently different from NTPs.
"Sometimes there are inventions like this that are so large that there are multiple pieces that people touch on," he said. "Regarding our patents, I can tell you that they in general discuss the ability to have remote synchronization."
This bothers some industry observers.
"The problem I have is that synchronization has been used in many other areas of technology [e.g. databases] and should be an obvious evolution from that space," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner, a technology consultancy.
"Whether these will ever amount to anything is a long way off."
Editors Note: This story was updated to include information and comments from Visto as well as an analyst.