Relief for Blackberry Users — Patent Dispute Settled

Research in Motion, the maker of the Blackberry, agrees to pay $612 million to a small Virginia firm to end a long-running legal dispute over patent rights to the technology. The battle had threatened service to customers of the popular handheld wireless e-mail device.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The great patent battle that threatened to shut down BlackBerry service in this country has been settled. BlackBerrys are the little handheld devices that send and receive email wirelessly. BlackBerry's owner, Research in Motion, agreed today to cough up 612,000,000 dollars to end a long running legal dispute over who had patent rights to the technology.

Joining us to discuss the case in NPR's Frank Langfitt. And Frank, this must be good news for BlackBerry addicts everywhere.

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, this has to be a huge relief to a lot of law firms and accountants, business people, who use this everyday. And I was talking to some attorneys here in town in Washington today who said they were watching the case daily. You know, these devices allow you to get email anywhere, anytime. And so they've added a lot of efficiency to a lot of companies.

And people were really worried about what might happen in they lost it. Research in Motion had promised to put together the software workaround that was gonna get around the patent issue, but a lot of companies weren't sure that was really gonna work, so they were quite concerned.

BLOCK: Let's talk about this lawsuit. It's been kicking around in court for something like five years now. It's been seen as a kind of David versus Goliath dispute.

LANGFITT: In a sense, it is. You know, the firm that sued is NTP, they're a small company from Virginia. And they had patented wireless email long before the BlackBerry, years before the BlackBerry came out on the market. And after RIM put it out there, NTP sued and won. That was 202 in court in Richmond. Research in Motion refused to settle and then appealed up to the Supreme Court.

Well, sometime last year, they came out with a settlement of about 450,000,000 dollars, but it ended up falling apart.

BLOCK: Now the judge in this case recently has been pressuring both sides to come to some kind of agreement. What about the timing here?

LANGFITT: Well, this was a long-running game of chicken, and I think someone, maybe both sides, in a sense, blinked. You know, both companies had a lot to gain by settling and a lot to lose by continuing this. You know, the judge told them last week, this should have been settled a long time ago and that when he made a ruling, it was gonna be an imperfect decision. And I think RIM was particularly concerned that its workaround might not work. And if it didn't and the BlackBerrys went dark, it could lose tons of business because people just couldn't function without and they would go elsewhere to other devices.

And for NTP, you know, they had to be worried because RIM was chipping away at their patents. The patent office had been slowly turning down their patents and rejecting them in a reexamination. And I think that NTP was probably concerned that if this went on for a long time, they would lose all their patents and wouldn't make a dime.

BLOCK: NPR's Frank Langfitt, talking about the settlement today in the BlackBerry patent infringement suit. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: You're welcome.

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