Hope, Fear Surround the BlackBerry Blackout Scare - Page 2

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A worst-case scenario for RIM customers means a potential shutdown of BlackBerry service in the United States.

And while RIM officials insist that they have a workaround solution at the ready, the company has yet to divulge what that workaround is.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer granted an injunction in favor of NTP in 2003, which included a ruling that RIM halt its sales of BlackBerry devices in the United States until NTPs patents run out.

He stayed the ruling, though, pending appeal. Since then, the case has gone through several appeals, and RIM is trying to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been evaluating the validity of NTPs patents.

While the PTO initially rejected NTPs claims in March, it is now in the process of re-evaluating them.

In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office late Wednesday issued a rejection of one of the five patents at the center of the dispute. But the action was a "non-final" action that could be appealed.

Spencer officially denied RIMs request to stay an injunction pending the Patent Offices decision. But he has yet to carry through with the injunction. And the waiting game continues.

RIM officials remain confident, pointing out that the Patent Office announced plans last summer to speed up its review processes.

"The PTOs going to shut this down in a couple of months," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM in Waterloo, Canada. "Though NTP can take an appeal to the courts from there, for all intents and purposes, their patents are finished at that point."

Spencer is not so sure.

"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 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."

A spokesperson for the patent office declined to give a time frame for a decision, saying only that it is "still pending."

NTP has no intention of offering services itself, although RIM competitors including Good Technology Inc. and Nokia Inc. recently have licensed NTP patents.

NTPs legal team insists its just looking for a decent financial settlement.

"We hope that this [recent ruling] brings them back to the negotiating table," said Kevin Anderson, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding of Washington, one of the law firms that represent NTP.

"Weve always been willing to give them a deal that addresses their business needs. RIM has the keys to their own jail. And if someones upset about losing their BlackBerry service, they should contact RIM, not us."

Editors Note: This story was updated to add information about the rejection of one of the patents at the center of the dispute.


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