BlackBerry Users Can Relax: NTP Won't Shut You Down

NTP Inc. could win less money from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. should an injunction halt service.
NTP Inc. could win less money from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. should an injunction halt service. (By Richard Drew -- Associated Press)
By Jerry Knight
Monday, December 12, 2005

This column is for all those traumatized people who type with their thumbs.

You know who you are: You carry a little BlackBerry wherever you go, and you're freaked out by reports that your pocket e-mail machine could be shut down by a dispute over who holds the patent on portable text-messaging.

To all those BlackBerry users, including many Washington area lawyers, lobbyists and government workers, I send this message: Don't worry.

It's not bye-bye, BlackBerry. Santa Claus is more likely to fall down your chimney than your BlackBerry is to go black.

The BlackBerry blackout threat is the urban myth of the moment -- a too-bad-not-to-be-true tale. Check with some patent and trademark lawyers and you'll find they think the odds of BlackBerry shutting down are extremely remote, even though it is legally possible.

"This is gamesmanship. Everybody's playing chicken, waiting to see who's going to blink first," said Scott Creasman, a patent lawyer in the firm Powell Goldstein LLP.

The case reminds me of the old National Lampoon cover showing a pistol pointed at the head of a lovable pooch with a headline, "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog."

There is "a gun to BlackBerry's head," said Doug Miro, a partner with Ostrolenk, Faber, Gerb & Soffen LLP in New York. But, he added, the consequences of pulling the trigger are precisely why it's not going to happen.

The gun is in the hand of Washington lawyer James Wallace, who represents NTP Inc., the little Northern Virginia company that claims the patent on portable text messaging. In years of legal proceedings, NTP has won in every venue. Judges and juries have ruled that NTP's patent was knowingly violated by Research in Motion Ltd., the Canadian company that sells BlackBerrys.

When people infringe on a patent, one obvious solution is to make them stop. The other obvious solution is to make them pay.

Money is what the dispute over the BlackBerry patent is all about. A Virginia jury has ruled that NTP is entitled to 5.7 percent of RIM's BlackBerry sales. That's about $240 million so far. NTP's share could, by one estimate, total $3 billion before the patent expires.

That's why NTP isn't likely to shut down your BlackBerry

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