Is the BlackBerry Doomed?

The judge pulled the plug on the popular handheld e-mail device, but postponed the decision pending appeal. Jim Louderback says, "Don't worry, be happy."-at least for now.

Is the BlackBerry out of legal juice? Yes, a federal court really did order RIM to pull its BlackBerry products from the United States, but then immediately postponed the order until RIMs appeal could wend its way through the courts.

The decision has sparked lots of discussion here at eWEEK. Like many companies, our top execs all carry their "crackberrys" and seem just as addicted as anyone else. Im sure many of you either have BlackBerrys, support executives carrying them, or are considering adopting some sort of push-based wireless e-mail system for employees on the go.

Does this mean you need to start evaluating alternatives to RIMs products? There are some really nice ones available now or nearing the market, including Handsprings upcoming Treo 600, Good Technologys BlackBerry clone (well-reviewed by eWEEK Labs and PC Magazine), and Hitachis latest SH-G1000 Phone/PDA combo.

You probably dont–at least not yet. eWEEK analyst Jason Brooks—who reviewed the cool new color BlackBerry thats up on our site today—told me that NTPs patents are so broad, nearly every wireless e-mail vendor is at risk. NTP essentially owns a patent on using radio-based wireless to deliver e-mail messages. And further, NTP sent cease and desist letters to most of those vendors.

RIMs no stranger to litigation. It has filed its own set of cease-and-desist suits against Handspring—over the Treos keyboard—and Good Technology. (Handspring and RIM settled last November, while the Good suit was tossed out of court in April.)

According to eWEEK reporter Carmen Nobel, who has been covering RIM for the past few years, RIMs strategy is essentially to stall. According to her recent news story, which tallied the almost $54 million RIM must pay to NTP, the company has already had the U.S. Patent and Trademark office begin re-examining the disputed patents. Now the company wants the appeals court to delay the start of the appeals process until the reevaluation is done.

RIM might even try to draw this case out until the last patent expires around 2012, according to a source familiar with the details. This is a fascinating case. Unlike many of the patent stories we hear about these days, where some yahoo patents something thats been used for years, NTPs patents might actually be valid—if over broad. Although NTPs merely a holding company for the patents, according to this detailed article at The Globe and Mail, NTPs founder Thomas Campana did some groundbreaking work on sending e-mail over paging systems back in the 80s.

It appears that RIM is in no mood to settle with NTP, so itll probably be years before this battle is resolved. But clearly RIM is taking a bullet for the entire wireless e-mail industry. If RIM is in fact found to be at fault, and the judgment stands, most likely the company will send off a large payment to NTP and continue to deliver products.

At that point RIMs competitors will also probably send off a bucket of cash to NTP, too. But its unlikely any of the popular portable e-mail systems will go off the market. NTP doesnt make anything—it just holds patents. So if the portable e-mail market collapses, those patents are worthless.

If youre really worried, consider moving to Goods platform. Although we havent seen a device as sexy as the new color RIM, you can bet Goods got one up its sleeve thats due out soon.

Still, it would be a big relief if NTP and RIM would simply come to the table and settle. Until they do, the entire community of wireless e-mail users is holding its collective breath—which may hold back further acceptance of this immensely productive tool. And whatever happens, one thing is for sure. Win or lose, theres a lot of money being spent on this case. And ultimately that means you and I will end up paying more for the privilege of e-mailing in the loo.