RIM Workaround Still Too Vague for Comfort

News Analysis: While RIM has released basic information about its contingency plans, customers want assurances that the plans are legal and feasible.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion maintains the legality 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.

But the details that RIM released on Feb. 9 are still vague enough that lawyers cant say whether patent-holding company NTP, which is suing RIM, will go ahead and sue RIM for the workaround, too.

And industry observers have mixed feelings about whether they have enough information to determine the viability of the solution.

"They havent given enough details sufficient to comment," said Kevin Alexander, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding of Washington, one of the law firms that represent NTP. "Theyve said theyre keeping the technical details confidential."

/zimages/2/28571.gifRIM issues BlackBerry workaround details. Click here to read more.

RIM has avoided releasing technical details so as not to tip a hand to NTP, but at the same time the company has been under pressure to answer to its customers by the end of the month; a federal judge has set a hearing date for Feb. 24, after which he could choose to issue an injunction shutting down the BlackBerry service as it stands.

RIM 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," and therefore would not be subject to a shutdown injunction, according to a prepared statement.

According to the details RIM released, the bulk of the changes in the workaround have to do with the way messages have been stored in RIMs network operations center.

Currently, messages are queued in the NOC when the BlackBerry device meant to receive them is not in the range of a network. With the workaround, messages would be queued in the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the server software that sits behind a customers corporate firewall.

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."

The paper also said that there would be changes to the e-mail delivery system, but did not detail them.

"After reviewing those documents, I didnt find any additional details on what it does and how it works," said Alex Kogan, director of network and data center services at Boston Properties, a real estate company in Boston with a deployment of 170 BlackBerries.

"I personally think that this was their move to reassure customers that the solution is real and that the service will continue regardless of the outcome of the trial.

"It looks like the least intrusive option would be to implement US system for any new devices that are sold. In that case, the only thing that would need to be upgraded would be BES."

Another customer was more hopeful.

Next Page: Can the workaround be trusted?