Sun, Jun 12, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Possible BlackBerry ban looms again in US


Final talks in a patent-infringement lawsuit involving the popular BlackBerry e-mail messaging device have reached an impasse, the two companies involved said on Thursday, raising the possibility that the BlackBerry service could be banned from the US market.

The two companies, Research in Motion of Waterloo, Ontario, which makes the BlackBerry, and NTP, a small patent-holding company in Arlington, Virginia, reached a settlement in March to end a three-and-a-half-year-old infringement suit. RIM agreed at the time to pay NTP the unusually large sum of US$450 million to end the lawsuit.

On Thursday, however, it was apparent that negotiations to reach a final settlement had failed.

Late Wednesday night, RIM asked a US federal court to enforce the settlement reached in March.

Meanwhile, in court papers filed Thursday, NTP denied that the settlement was ever clear-cut, and urged the court to reject RIM's request.

In a conference call Thursday with analysts, James Balsillie, the chairman and co-chief executive of RIM, said he could not comment on the specifics of why the talks had foundered, citing a confidentiality agreement between the two companies. He emphasized, though, that RIM had not tried to alter the settlement's terms, and blamed NTP for the impasse.

"This is an enormous amount of money, one of the largest settlements in the history of any patent system," Balsillie said. "I'm at a loss to understand what in the world one would want beyond that."

In its filing, however, NTP said that it had pressed RIM for a complete set of documents detailing the terms of the agreement during three days of negotiations in March.

"Nevertheless, because of RIM's pressing need to leave town, the signed agreement was limited to a vague, ambiguously worded term sheet," the court papers said.

NTP had won the right to ban Blackberry e-mail in the US in an earlier court decision, but that ruling was suspended when RIM appealed. In its filing on Thursday, however, NTP said that if no settlement was reached, it would again ask for an injunction on the sale of BlackBerry pagers and e-mail service in the US.

Research in Motion is dependent on Blackberry sales in the US for about 75 percent of its revenues.

Gregory Upchurch, an intellectual property lawyer in St. Louis, said that about 80 percent of the time, courts enforced previously announced settlements.

"Courts are in the business of resolving disputes," he said. "They don't like cases coming back from the dead."

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