Shutdown avoided as BlackBerry dispute is settled

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) and NTP Inc. have settled their long-standing legal battle, with RIM paying NTP US$612.5 million to settle all of NTP's patent claims against it.

NTP has granted RIM an unfettered right to continue its business, including its BlackBerry business, according to a RIM statement. All terms of the agreement have been finalized and the case against RIM was dismissed by a court order Friday afternoon.

The case had threatened to shut down service to most of the millions of BlackBerry users in the U.S. NTP was seeking an injunction against RIM in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At a hearing last week, Judge James Spencer did not rule on the injunction but slammed the companies for failing to settle the case. RIM had said it had a workaround for the RIM service that would steer clear of NTP's patents.

The agreement relates to all patents owned and controlled by NTP and covers all of RIM's products, the statement said. It eliminates the need for any further court proceedings or decisions, RIM said.

RIM made the deal to get the dispute out of the way, said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario.

"The absolute motivation was really to give clarity and certainty to all our ecosystems so we can really start our new [fiscal] year, which starts Monday ... with no more of the noise and distraction of this suit," Balsillie said on a conference call after the deal and RIM's fourth-quarter earnings were announced.

Balsillie said the settlement covers all partners and all technologies. "It was very important to get the scope we wanted," he said.

Users expressed relief at the settlement and annoyance at the lawsuit.

Judy Wilks, a Blackberry user and San Francisco-based vice president of public relations (PR) firm Bite Communications, said she is pleased the patent dispute has been resolved and the threat of a service interruption has ended.

"We PR people are addicted to our BlackBerries, so would have been at a loss without them," she said. "We love being connected at all times."

Justin Beech, who owns and runs DSLreports.com, in New York, was not surprised at the deal.

"Actually, I never thought they'd turn off service; too many powerful people depend on them. And I also think NTP is abusing the patent system, so I am a little annoyed that RIM blinked and basically funded their next half dozen court cases," Beech wrote in an e-mail message from his BlackBerry.

The NTP patents involved in the case have been found invalid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and are still in the midst of what may be a lengthy re-examination process. Balsillie said RIM did not feel good about settling over questionable patents.

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