Hearing Set on Possible BlackBerry Blackout

By John Cox, NetworkWorld.com, 01/26/06

The next legal skirmish for Research in Motion in its long-running patent battle with NTP will take place Feb. 24 in a federal courtroom closely watched by customers worried that RIM's BlackBerry service could be shut down.

U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer this week set the date for a hearing to consider a possible injunction against RIM, maker of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail device. NTP has asked the court to close down the BlackBerry service in the U.S. and the manufacture and sale of the handhelds themselves. Both companies are scheduled to file opposing arguments in the case with Judge Spencer by Feb. 1.

Right around the time the parties will be meeting in Judge Spencer's courtroom, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may be moving toward a final resolution of the NTP patents at the heart of this dispute. Last December, the office issued another set of preliminary rulings that found NTP's patents to be invalid. NTP's response is due by Feb. 28.

A report this week by analysts at investment banker Goldman Sachs noted that "NTP must prove that these patents contain new inventions on several key patents by Feb. 28 or face the PTO permanently rejecting the patents," the authors wrote. "If the PTO issues final rejections on any or all of the five NTP patents, this could change the course of the lawsuit. To the extent that patents are ruled invalid, we believe that it is likely that this would be considered by the District Court."

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