NTP Asks Federal Judge To Turn Off BlackBerrys

About 4 million people use the BlackBerry e-mail device in the United States.
About 4 million people use the BlackBerry e-mail device in the United States. (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)
By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

The company suing the maker of the BlackBerry for patent infringement yesterday asked a federal judge to halt U.S. sales of the wireless e-mail devices this month.

NTP Inc., the McLean-based company that won a lawsuit against Research in Motion Ltd., is also asking the court to shut down service for most of BlackBerry's 4 million users in the United States.

If the companies do not settle, the four-year-old case goes before U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer, who has indicated that he would not delay an injunction. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24 in Richmond.

Meanwhile, RIM yesterday noted that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected some of NTP's underlying patents in an ongoing review. Although those actions are subject to appeal by NTP, RIM hopes that the judge will consider the agency's findings and deny the injunction.

RIM maintained its position in filings with the court yesterday that an injunction is not necessary. "NTP frequently has stated publicly that it is seeking an injunction solely to force RIM into acceding to an excessive financial settlement," RIM argued.

If service were shut down, Spencer would probably give BlackBerry users time to arrange other e-mail service, or to deploy the "work-around" software that RIM says it will make available to continue service. NTP has asked for a 30-day grace period, while the Justice Department has asked for at least 90 days to protect government users.

Government users would be exempt from an injunction, which means they would be able to continue buying and using the devices. It is not clear whether government contractors, who work closely with some agencies, would also be exempt.

Last month, RIM was denied a hearing of its case by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2002, a jury ordered RIM to pay royalties that now total more than $250 million.

NTP's success defending its patents has prompted other companies to file similar lawsuits. Visto Corp., a smaller wireless e-mail provider, recently sued Microsoft Corp. and Good Technology Inc. for allegedly violating patents. Visto settled a suit against Infowave Software Inc.

The proliferation of intellectual-property lawsuits has prompted some large technology companies such as Microsoft, with huge software lines to defend, to call for patent legislation to reduce litigation. Smaller companies such as NTP and Great Falls-based MercExchange LLC, which won a lawsuit against eBay Inc., have argued that large companies already use their size and financial resources to bully smaller companies trying to defend their licenses.

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