Supreme Court won't hear BlackBerry case

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t review the patent infringement dispute between Research in Motion Ltd. and NTP Inc., closing down one of the BlackBerry mobile device vendor’s avenues against NTP’s suit, RIM said in a statement Monday.

NTP is suing RIM for alleged infringement of patents covering the operation of a wireless e-mail service. An injunction against RIM in the case could force the company to shut down the BlackBerry service or find a technical workaround to avoid the contested technology. The companies last year reached a settlement in the case, but that deal fell apart.

At Macworld Expo earlier this month, RIM announced that they would start bundling Macintosh synchronization software with their BlackBerry devices. Beginning in February, RIM will include Information Appliance Associates’ PocketMac for BlackBerry.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, had sought to have the Supreme Court review issues involving the cross-border reach of U.S. patent law. The court declined to review those issues.

In a 2002 jury trial, RIM was found to be infringing NTP’s patents and an injunction was issued to stop the company from selling its BlackBerry devices or services in the U.S. But that injunction was put on hold during appeals and then lifted by an appeals court that ruled one of NTP’s key claims was misinterpreted. However, the appeals court upheld the fundamental finding that RIM had infringed the patents.

NTP is now seeking a new, refined injunction against RIM, one that would include exemptions for federal and other government users and emergency “first responders,” as well as a 30-day grace period for users to find new products and services, according to James Wallace, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding LLC in Washington, D.C., who represents NTP.

The denial of RIM’s petition to the Supreme Court clears the way for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Richmond, to impose a permanent injunction, Wallace said in an interview. The international issues were the only ones left for RIM to pursue regarding the core of the case, he said.

“That was their last gasp on infringement,” Wallace said.

The Virginia court is now considering the amount of damages and whether an injunction should be imposed, Wallace said. Both companies filed briefs on Jan. 17 and are set to file reply briefs on Feb. 1, he said.

Wallace believes the court, under Judge James Spencer, will impose an injunction in February. Wallace would not comment on whether the companies are discussing a settlement.

In its statement Monday, RIM said an injunction would be inappropriate because of public interest concerns over the disruption of BlackBerry service to businesses and the public sector. In addition, an injunction would be unnecessary, because if it were held to be infringing, RIM has the ability to compensate NTP through royalties, the company said.

RIM also pointed to initial rulings by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in which it rejected all of NTP’s patent claims. The company expects the PTO to work quickly to finish reexamining the claims. NTP believes the reexamination doesn’t affect its fight for an injunction because the courts won’t wait for the PTO to finish its work. Last November, Judge Spencer denied a request by RIM to hold up the trial until the reexaminations were finished. That process could take months or years, he said.

RIM is creating software work-arounds that will let it continue offering services if an injunction is imposed, the company said. RIM executives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Peter Cohen contributed information used in this report.

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