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Judge to Weigh U.S. BlackBerry Injunction
[February 24, 2006]

Judge to Weigh U.S. BlackBerry Injunction

(AP) Judge to Weigh U.S. BlackBerry Injunction
AP Business Writer
The two companies warring over the popular BlackBerry device head for a courtroom showdown on Friday, when a judge begins weighing an injunction on the wireless e-mail service.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. has argued against the injunction, noting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is poised to reject all of challenger NTP Inc.'s patents. Indeed, the agency this week rejected the first of five patents closely tied to the court case.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer previously had said he was unwilling to delay his proceedings while awaiting final word from the agency. But the speedier moves from the patent office have some attorneys wondering whether Spencer will be swayed.

"I really feel it's too close to call," said Stephen Maebius, a Washington patent attorney not involved in the case. "I can really see it going both ways."

First, some critical news for BlackBerry fans: Those screens aren't expected to go dark. Analysts have said that Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM could still settle at the last minute for as much as $1 billion. And, under the threat of an injunction on U.S. BlackBerry sales and service, RIM has said it would introduce new software that would not violate NTP's patents.

How well that software works is another question. Because RIM has released few details, analysts and some companies are concerned.

NTP, based in Arlington, Va., sued in 2001, and a year later, a federal jury agreed that RIM had infringed on the smaller firm's patents. The jury awarded NTP 5.7 percent of U.S. BlackBerry sales -- a rate that Spencer later boosted to 8.55 percent.

Spencer first issued an injunction in 2003 but held off on its enforcement during RIM's appeals. After those efforts largely failed, the case returned to Spencer. It is unclear whether he will rule from the bench Friday.

On Thursday, there were several court filings from businesses concerned about any injunction.

Ascension Health, which owns dozens of hospitals, said it was worried about the potential health consequences. Its physicians and administrator rely heavily on BlackBerry devices, the St. Louis-based nonprofit said.

Science Applications International Corp., a research and engineering firm based in San Diego, said there would be national security implications if communications between the company and its government customers were impacted.

"NTP apparently is laboring under the mistaken belief that such an injunction enforced against SAIC would not involve national defense, national security, homeland security or public interest concerns," the company wrote. "These assumptions are flat wrong."

NTP has asked Spencer for a permanent injunction. The company has previously noted that RIM users have plenty of alternatives, and that exemptions would be granted to government and emergency workers. (The Justice Department, however, is expected to appear in court to express its concerns.)

In a recent court filing, NTP said the injunction would end widespread infringement of its patents by RIM and its corporate customers. "RIM must simply turn those accounts off in the same fashion as when a customer fails to pay its bill," it said.

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