RIM one step closer to Judgement Day?

RIM one step closer to Judgement Day?

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has lost its latest move in the long-running patent infringement case brought by NPT, according to published reports.

U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer on Wednesday denied a request by RIM to enforce the terms of a US$450 settlement that RIM had negotiated with NPT earlier this year, but then refused to finalize. According to a press release on RIM's Web site, Spencer concluded the earlier agreement was not an "enforceable agreement." Spencer also denied another RIM motion, this one to continue to stay the court "until the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office reaches a final determination in its reexamination of the NTP patents."

The Patent Office last summer, in preliminary rulings, rejected all of NTP's claims in seven of eight patents in question. But the adjudication process, once the rulings are finalized, could take years.

The next step is for Spencer to schedule a hearing on whether RIM, a Canadian company, can keep selling its hardware and software in the U.S.

RIM claims 4 million BlackBerry users worldwide, including legions of them in the U.S., where they often refer to themselves as "CrackBerries," an allusion to the addictive nature of e-mails that are pushed wirelessly and instantly from a corporate e-mail server to the handheld.

RIM now faces other patent infringement suits in Europe. In one, Luxembourg-based Inpro Licensing Sarl, like NTP a patent license holding company, charges that RIM is infringing a U.K. patent held by Inpro, relating to the movement of data between BlackBerry devices and the Internet.

The four-year-old battle with NPT has been a series of setbacks for RIM, except for the Patent Office ruling last summer.

In a written assessment, consulting firm TowerGroup says a court ruling in favor of NTP is unlikely to lead to a wholesale shut-down of RIM's service. The firm expects the two companies to hammer out a settlement within 30 days, with RIM agreeing to pay US$750 million to US$1 billion. That could eventually lead to higher costs for companies that rely on the BlackBerry.

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