A judge should not shut down Research in Motion (RIM)'s BlackBerry mobile e-mail service in the U.S., even though a jury ruled that it infringes another company's patent, because BlackBerry devices play a "crucial role" in important industries such as hospitals, utilities and banks, RIM's lawyers argued in court Friday.
Even with an exemption allowing government workers to continue to use BlackBerry service, a court injunction against RIM in its legal battle with NTP would harm the public interest by cutting off important private businesses and limiting government workers' ability to communicate with private citizens, Henry Bunsow, a RIM lawyer, said in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
After half a day of arguments, Judge James Spencer didn't rule on the injunction requested by patent holder NTP Inc., but at the same time the hearing was happening in Richmond, Virginia, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) ruled that an NTP wireless e-mail central in the case is invalid.
Recent USPTO rulings rejecting this key patent and other patents in the lawsuit don't cancel out the August 2003 jury ruling in the case, but Bunsow argued that Spencer should consider the USPTO's actions while ruling on an injunction.
Bunsow showed the judge letters from hospitals, an organ transplant service, the American Gas Association and other groups saying BlackBerry devices were important to their work. "All of these people's service would go dark," Bunsow said. "There simply are no reliable alternatives to the BlackBerry system."
Spencer noted that RIM has told investors it has a workaround for the technology that NTP claims. He expressed surprise that, despite the workaround, the company argued in court that the "foundations of Western civilization will be shaken" if he approves an injunction against the company selling its products in the U.S. Injunctions against the use of the patented inventions are a common legal tool in patent infringement cases.
Spencer also heard arguments about whether he should adjust the US$126 million NTP says it's owed after a U.S. appeals court sent the case back to him on one key claim.
"I'm surprised, absolutely surprised, that you'd leave this ... incredibly important decision to the court," he said. "In plain words, the case should've been settled, but it hasn't," Spencer said.
Spencer did not indicate when he would make a decision, but said a ruling on damages would likely happen before a decision about the injunction.
NTP lawyer James Wallace said an injunction is needed because RIM continues to act like a "squatter" even after the August 2003 jury verdict in Virginia and after the U.S. Supreme Court in January decided not to hear RIM's appeal.
"RIM's conduct continues in the face of the jury verdict ... and in the face of being rebuffed by the chief justice and the entire U.S. Supreme Court," he said.
Wallace also noted RIM's claims of a work-around for the NTP patents. RIM could use the work-around to make sure government agencies have access to BlackBerry service, he said. Wallace asked the judge to enforce the injunction and give users 30 days to make other arrangements, saying several competing wireless e-mail devices now exist.
Bunsow said RIM's work-around would take millions of hours to implement.
In December 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected an earlier injunction issued by the Virginia district court. The district court issued the original injunction in August 2003 but stayed the ruling pending appeal.