Skip to comments.BlackBerry Service Faces Shutdown
Posted on 12/16/2005 7:41:36 AM PST by governsleastgovernsbest
The BlackBerry service, based on the handheld e-mail device that has become a must-have tool for the business elite, could be shutdown in the United States after a bitter legal battle over a key patent.
This week, NTP, a small firm that holds a crucial patent that allows e-mails to be sent to mobile devices, announced a licence agreement with Visto Corp - an arch-rival of Research In Motion. (RIM), the company that created the BlackBerry. The announcement could put further pressure on RIM to settle a patent claim from NTP which could be worth up to $1 billion (£565 million), or face having its service shut down altogether.
With neither side apparently prepared to concede any ground, the dispute seems set to continue. "It sounds like a little bit of Russian roulette," Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond, told AP.
Visto has also took out a legal writ against Microsoft, accusing the company of infringing patents. Visto said it is seeking a permanent injunction to stop Microsoft from "misappropriating" technology developed nearly ten years ago by Visto and its co-founder.
To avoid similar litigation, RIM competitors including Nokia and Good Technology have drawn up licence agreements with NTP, which is based in Arlington, Virginia. In addition to signing its deal with Visto, NTP bought a stake in the company, which licences its mobile e-mail technology to Sprint Nextel and Vodafone, the British-based telecoms company.
If a court orders a shutdown of BlackBerry's service, it is likely to give users just 30 days' notice to switch to other devices.
In the meantime, RIM's share price has plunged 21 per cent this year amid growing concerns from users. RIM has 3.65 million BlackBerry subscribers, most of them in the United States. Competitors such as Nokia and Palm are already looking to grab sales from the market leader.
A federal jury in Richmond backed NTP's patent claim in 2002. Since then, RIMs appeals have failed and a $450 million settlement has unravelled. RIM is now relying on separate proceedings by the US patent office, which has preliminarily rejected the patents at issue, but is awaiting a court decision.
James Wallace, a lawyer for NTP, says he plans to argue in federal court in Virginia that these deals show there are available options for customers in the event of an injunction against RIM.
Although some industry observers believe NTP has no financial incentives to force a shutdown, lawyers for the company have claimed otherwise.
"I understand that theory, and when BlackBerry was the only game in town, there was a certain logic to it," Mr Wallace said.
Mark Guibert, vice president of corporate marketing for RIM, said that he thinks most people will see through Vistos "timing and rhetoric."
"This is a small player looking for free publicity through a last-minute licence with undisclosed terms for patents that have been rejected by the patent office," he said.
Meanwhile, customers have complained of being left in the dark over the future of the BlackBerry service.
Officials with Northwest Airlines were worried enough to demand a recent meeting with RIM.
Although the airline said it was satisfied with RIMs information, it also noted that it had identified alternative suppliers and was continuing to monitor the BlackBerry situation to ensure service would not be interrupted.
In a statement, RIM said it was speaking directly to customers and partners to explain the patent offices decisions and to "assure them that we have prepared a contingency plan to implement a software workaround should it eventually become necessary."
They're gonna need to create some sort of netthedone for all the crackberry addicts if this happens.
Won't happen. The courts are not going to shut off service to millions of people. They'll force an agreement.
I work in support for nextel branded Blackberry devices. Research in Motion has a backup service in place, there should be no loss in service. if you want my true opinion, PM me, though.
Thanks for the very interesting info. I'm not a Blackberry user, but this will surely come as a relief to the millions who are.
I h8 txt msgng....
No kidding, what will people do if they can't pull the thing out of it's holster every two minutes.
No man's life, liberty, or property are safe as long as court is in session.
Won't happen. Some agreement will be reached.
It'll be a while. The government and emergency services are big Blackberry users. Nobody in the case wants to shut them down, and RIM says it can't selectively deactivate its network.
Patents have become a huge boondoggle, suitable only for enriching lawyers.
The patents that I've dealt with have been "obvious to someone trained in the art", which theoretically can't be patented. Or they involved claims which didn't fit what we were doing, but because a large competitor maintains an office of attorneys that seek to make a profit on patents, we got sued anyway. We're winning, but we had to spend money fighting a bogus patent.
The original idea that patents were protection of intellectual property is gone. Now they're merely another lawn that lawyers browse for their meals.
The only real good patents do today are to shield one from lawsuit by another patent holder, since any single piece of technology will have many overlapping patents, it's like a game of chance where the winner is the one with more patent violations against his competitor.
The idea that some small inventor can come up with a bright idea and sell the patent, or sue a company using his idea for money is just laughable.
The "service" we get from Blackberry is the reconciliation of email. Sending a message to a mobile device is nothing and we could get that anywhere. But having the ability to have those messages on your mobile device and within your email client while both are showing read or unread (correctly), the synchronization between address books, the lookups on the corporate address book, etc. is hard to get.
The shutdown would not effect anyone in any kind of public government service, should it go into effect. Govt users would still be able to use the service.
Last I heard, RIM claimed it couldn't do a selective shutdown, thus the problem.
it would be difficult, but not impossible. its just a matter of deactivating or deleting all accounts that are not listed as a "government" or "public sector" depending on the provider's service they have, be they cingular, nextel, verizon, etc.