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As court case looms, RIM and NTP fight war of words

Posted by inet - 2006-02-27

With the long-running patent infringement lawsuit over BlackBerry wireless e-mail service primed to go to oral argument before a federal judge Friday, parties in the case are taking the final hours to escalate a war of words via press release.
NTP Inc. issued a statement this morning saying that Research in Motion Inc., (RIM) which provides BlackBerry service for nearly 4 million U.S. customers, has made “numerous mischaracterizations” and “inaccurately characterized the validity of the NTP patents.”

BlackBerry users have been following the four-year-old case closely because the judge could order a shutdown of RIM’s service in the U.S. RIM has said it has a workaround ready should that happen and government workers have asked to be exempt from any shutdown order so they can continue using the service.

[View more BlackBerry legal battle coverage] Further, NTP said it has obtained government documents through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act which “indicate an attempt to subvert the U.S. intellectual property system” through efforts by the Canadian embassy and the Canadian Ministry of Industry, among others. RIM is based on Waterloo, Ont.

NTP said the documents show an unnamed Canadian government official tried to speak to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce whose office oversees the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and that the Canadian Minister of Industry won an unprecedented PTO review on behalf of RIM. RIM was also permitted “undisclosed meetings” with the PTO to “hear [RIM’s] pitch,” NTP said, noting that PTO regulations forbid such meetings.

“NTP seeks only a fair proceeding,” NTP said in concluding its statement. “Permitting patent reexaminations to be influenced by lobbying efforts of a losing willful infringer [RIM] destroys fairness in the patent system for any and all companies.”

RIM officials had no immediate response to the NTP comments.

NTP’s four-page statement also described the importance of the judicial case and the superiority of the courts over the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has been issuing reviews favorable to RIM. NTP further called the actions of the PTO with regard to RIM “extraordinary and unprecedented” and said the patent office had conveniently delayed a re-examination of the patents involved until after NTP’s inventor, Thomas Campana, died in 2004.

This morning’s NTP statement follows a statement RIM issued yesterday about the PTO’s reviews of several NTP wireless em-ail patents and the claims regarding them.

While NTP attorneys and outside observers have noted that U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer is not likely to consider any actions by the PTO when the case comes before him in Richmond, Va. Friday, RIM said in its statement that the findings in favor of it “are expected to withstand all future appeals by NTP.”

NTP’s attorney, James Wallace Jr., reacted via e-mail to RIM’s statement yesterday by noting that appeals could take up to three years.

But NTP Thursday said: “Since the federal court system has the final say in the matter, RIM’s assertions that the patents have been invalidated are flatly wrong. The validity of the patents is not affected by preliminary PTO office actions.”

In fact, NTP argued, last month’s refusal by the     U.S. Supreme Court to hear RIM’s request for review means that the issue is not whether NTP’s patent claims are valid, but how much NTP should be compensated by RIM for use of the patents.

“RIM now seeks a second bite at the apple by using its lobbyists and political connections to exert political influence to have the PTO reexamine NTP’s patents,” NTP said

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