BlackBerry maker Research In Motion released further details Feb. 9 of a long-awaited “workaround” that customers can implement if a federal judge rules against the company in a patent dispute and issues an injunction to shut down RIMs mobile e-mail service as it stands.
“RIMs workaround provides a contingency for our customers and partners and a counterbalance to NTPs threats,” said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of the Waterloo, Ontario, company, in a prepared statement. This will hopefully lead to more reasonable negotiations since NTP risks losing all future royalties if the workaround is implemented.”
The workaround, called the BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition, has been designed for customers using BlackBerry devices on converged voice/data networks in the United States, with either the corporatre BlackBerry Enterprise Server or the consumer-level BlackBerry Internet Service, Basillie said.
BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition makes fundamental changes to the way BlackBerry e-mail is delivered and queued, according to a short white paper that RIM released Feb. 9.
The bulk of the changes have to do with the way messages are stored in RIMs NOC (network operations center).
Currently, when the NOC detects that a BlackBerry device is out of network range, it queues the message and resends it when the device is back in range. This is done with no interaction with the BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server), which is the server software that sits behind a customers firewall.
With the proposed workaround, the NOC no longer queues the messages. Rather, if a device is out of network range, the NOC will let the BES know that the messages cant be delivered at that time. The BES will queue the messages instead, until the NOC lets the BES know that the BlackBerry device is available.
BlackBerry Enterprise Server administrators may notice additional log entries generated in the BES, according to the white paper.
The paper also said that there would be changes to the e-mail delivery system, but did not detail them.
Holding company NTP sued Canadian 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 been re-evaluating several of the disputed patents for months. The USPTO has indicated that it intends to reject all of NTPs claims eventually, which would make the case 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 set another hearing date for Feb. 24, after which he could choose to issue an injunction shutting down the BlackBerry service as it stands.
As the potential injunction would affect only U.S. customers, BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition provides two modes of operation: Standard mode and U.S. mode. According to an FAQ on RIMs Web site, “When users are outside the U.S., and receiving service from a non-U.S. service provider, the BlackBerry device operates in Standard mode and there are no changes to the current message delivery system or BlackBerry functionality.
“When users are in the U.S., and receiving service from a U.S. service provider, the BlackBerry device operates in U.S. mode,” the FAQ said.
BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition requires customers to install a software update on both their BlackBerry devices and BlackBerry Enterprise Server, but officials said BlackBerry users in the United States should not notice any difference in functionality.
The company has received “a confidential and privileged legal opinion confirming that RIMs software workaround designs do not infringe any of the NTP patent claims remaining in the litigation,” according to a prepared statement from RIM.
RIM will announce the process for downloading any necessary upgrades “at a later time,” a company statement says. The workaround software, should it be necessary, will be available free of charge. “All they did was move outbound queuing to the BES and away from the NOC,” said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner, a technology consultancy in San Jose, Calif. “That was the essence of the patents. That the messages were stored in the network. We can say this probably is valid but still a negotiating ploy. And the implementation will still take time, and NTP will still contest this.”