By TONI LOCY, Associated Press Writer
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from the maker
of the BlackBerry in the long-running battle over patents for the
wildly popular, handheld wireless e-mail device.
The high court's refusal to hear Canada-based Research In Motion
Ltd.'s appeal means that a trial judge in Richmond, Va., could impose
an injunction against the company and block BlackBerry use among many
of its owners in the United States.
The justices had been asked to decide on whether U.S. patent law is
technologically out of date in the age of the Internet and the global
At issue was how U.S. law applies to technology that is used in a
foreign country and allegedly infringes on the intellectual property
rights of a patent-holder in the United States.
The justices were asked to decide whether Research In Motion can be
held liable for patent infringement when its main relay station for
e-mail and data transmission is located in Waterloo, Ontario, outside
RIM was challenging a ruling by a federal appeals court that found
that the company had infringed on the patents held by NTP Inc., a tiny
northern Virginia patent-holding firm, because its customers use the
BlackBerry inside U.S. borders. The panel said it did not matter where
the relay station is located.
Attorney Kevin Anderson, who represents NTP, said the firm is pleased
with the court's action. "We think the Supreme Court's rejection of
RIM's position makes it clear that RIM should stop defying the
U.S. legal system," he said.
RIM sought to play down the significance of the court's rejction. "RIM
has consistently acknowledged that Supreme Court review is granted in
only a small percentage of cases and we were not banking on Supreme
Court review," said Mark Guibert, RIM's vice president for corporate
marketing. "RIM's legal arguments for the District Court remain strong
and our software workaround designs remain a solid contingency."
Since its introduction in 1999, the BlackBerry has revolutionized the
business world, allowing people to stay in constant e-mail contact
with their offices and customers while they are away from their
The BlackBerry almost instantaneously transmits data through radio
frequency technology that Thomas Campana Jr., an engineer, says he
developed in 1990, long before the Internet became an integral part of
The dispute not only has resonated with BlackBerry users who worry
that their lifeline to their offices could be severed. The U.S. and
Canadian governments also are concerned, as is Intel Corp., the
world's largest semiconductor manufacturer.
U.S. officials worry about the loss of BlackBerry use for law
enforcement and health workers in a crisis, while the Canadian
government is concerned that research and development in other
industries will be stifled if RIM loses on all fronts.
In a filing with the Supreme Court, Intel's lawyers said the company
is torn. As an investor of billions of dollars into research and
development, the company is among the nation's leaders in obtaining
patents and wants to protect itself against infringement.
At the same time, Intel also is frequently accused of infringement and
wants clearer rules that protect it from small patent-holding
companies that have little infrastructure and produce no products.
Attorney Herbert L. Fenster, who represents RIM, said the company is
fighting the injunction. But he said an injunction would not end
BlackBerry use among at least 1 million of its 3 million users in the
Fenster said he believes federal law prohibits U.S. District Judge
James R. Spencer from cutting off BlackBerry service to federal,
state and local government users and others who rely on the devices to
communicate during a public emergency.
Spencer has set a Feb. 1 deadline for filings on the injunction issue.
The legal fight began in 2001, when NTP sued RIM for infringement. The
next year, a jury in Richmond decided that RIM had infringed on
patents held by NTP, awarding the company 5.7 percent of
U.S. BlackBerry sales. Spencer later increased that rate to 8.55
percent. At last count, the tally of damages and fees had exceeded
$200 million and it continues to grow.
In a court filing last week, NTP said it was willing to resolve the
matter if RIM were to pay it the original 5.7 percent royalty fee,
Last year, attempts to resolve the case fell apart when Spencer
disapproved a settlement in which RIM would have paid $450 million to
The case is RIM v. NTP, 05-763.
On the Net:
Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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