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RIM hopes to bury patent dispute soon

Next month a judge will receive final written arguments in the four-year-old case

For Research In Motion, 2006 could be the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of its legal battle with NTP Inc.The two adversaries have until Jan. 17 to submit written briefs to a judge on a possible injunction and damages against RIM for violating NTP patents. Then they’ll have until Feb. 1 to file final arguments.
Seemingly unscathed by losing the case and having Gartner Inc. warn customers that adopting RIM devices is risky, the Waterloo, Ont. company ended the year with buoyant revenues and is hoping recent U.S. patent office rulings against NTP will weaken any punishment the judge metes out.
However NTP has said unfavourable patent offices rules will be appealed, meaning the dispute could go on for years.
Last month an NTP lawyer said the holding firm will seek to re-confirm an earlier injunction and collect approximately US$240 million in damages following a U.S. court decision striking RIM’s attempts to stay court proceedings and enforce what it says was a settlement between the companies.

‘Like any other case’
“This is just like any other patent infringement case,” said NTP attorney Jim Wallace, partner at Washington law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding. “We know what the damages are. We would say we want that money plus our injunction.”
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia refused to stop proceedings until the U.S. patent office reached a final decision on NTP’s patent claims. Last fall the office rejected all claims of remaining NTP patents upon first review. Then in December the office rejected three of the five in a second review. Still to come, however, is its final decision on all NTP patents in the case.
In another blow, RIM’s request to enforce a US$450 million settlement it believed it had with NTP earlier this year was rejected by the judge, who said the parties “do not have a valid and enforceable settlement agreement.”

Injunction stayed
NTP originally filed suit in 2001, alleging that several dozen system and method claims from its patents-in-suit had been infringed by RIM’s BlackBerry and wireless e-mail devices and services.
A jury agreed in 2002 and Judge John Spencer ordered a permanent injunction against RIM in the U.S., which was stayed pending an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
RIM tried and failed to get the Supreme Court to hold that order off until the patent office’s final ruling.
An injunction prohibiting RIM from servicing BlackBerrys and from using, selling, manufacturing or importing its handhelds and software in the U.S. could jeopardize the company’s future. The U.S. market accounts for 70 per cent of its business.
RIM says it has a work around to dodge the injunction, but industry analysts are skeptical because the solution hasn’t been announced.
RIM has been alternatively circumspect and ebulient since November. when Spencer said he would go on with the case.
At that time a company spokeswoman said it would not make any public comments. Instead, it issued a press release outlining why it deems an injunction inappropriate at this time.
However, when it released its latest quarterly report in December, RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie was quoted as saying he believes the company has been “vindicated” by the patent office’s recent ruling.
RIM is also hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will review an appeal court decision against it. But Wallace noted the Supreme Court already has a couple of patent infringement cases before it.
“The Supreme Court only takes 70 cases a year of all types,” said Wallace. “The idea that they would take two or three patent cases in one term that’s a real long-shot unless the new Chief Justice is a patent nut, which I don’t think he is.”