Visto Demands Moment in Spotlight

News Analysis: With its patent lawsuit against Microsoft and new licensing deal with BlackBerry intimidators NTP, Visto has thrust itself onto the main stage in the developing market for mobile e-mail technologies.

With its sudden rise to the forefront of debate over which technology providers are best positioned to cash in on the growing market for mobile e-mail infrastructure, Visto Corp. is framing itself as the Rodney Dangerfield of the industry, and demanding some respect.

On a practical level, the company did just that Thursday, filing a patent lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. that could conceivably delay the launch of the software giants Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system.

The legal news followed Wednesdays announcement that Visto had signed a technology licensing agreement with NTP Inc., the company wielding its own patent win over BlackBerry service provider Research In Motion Inc. that threatens to shutter the popular service.

Some industry watchers believe that Vistos moves this week may be aimed directly at raising its profile among a sea of potential competitors, which includes larger players such as Microsoft, RIM and Nokia Corp., and some equally lesser-known firms like Seven Networks Inc.

But Visto Chief Technology Officer Daniel Méndez cringes at that assumption, and says his company is merely protecting its hard-earned intellectual property and saving itself from future patent disputes.

Visto deserves to be considered among the leading providers of mobile e-mail technology based on its carrier deals and growing customer base, the executive said.

If people view this weeks spate of activity as a headline grab, said Méndez, theyre not looking at the companys viewpoint hard enough.

"We have significant contracts around the world, and a rapidly growing base of users, so we wouldnt put ourselves in this position just to get headlines; headlines are ephemeral and they go away," the CTO said.

"We feel that we are in a nascent, exploding market that we have worked very hard over the years to establish, and we dont want to see anyone else come into the market and benefit from our innovation."

Unlike RIM, the current poster child for mobile e-mail service in the United States with its 3 million-plus subscribers, Visto provides its technology to carriers, rather than consumers, who in turn create their own wireless data offerings built on its infrastructure.

The companys biggest deal to date is the pact it signed in November with U.K.-based Vodafone, but Visto also has smaller deals in the United States with Sprint Nextel Corp., Cingular Wireless and Ericsson Inc., and supports more than 20 different carriers worldwide.

Méndez said that Vistos e-mail technology currently supports "several hundred thousand" customers and more than 60 wireless devices, but he expects those numbers to grow as Vodafone and others bring more services to market and attract new users.

He said that the companys status as a white-label, or silent partner provider to the carriers, hasnt given it as much exposure as RIM, but he feels that Vistos presence could soon match its rivals.

"Were not a new company; weve been in business for 10 years providing these same types of technologies, and thats why we have these fundamental patents of our own," he said.

"We were developing this technology before there was a market for it, and it has taken a while for people to catch up to our vision; with the NTP deal, we feel that were the only company out there that is really able to cover ourselves and the carriers, unencumbered by future [intellectual property] concerns for customers."

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