Judge to Blackberry Users: Drop Dead
5:20 PM -- I've never been in Judge James R. Spencer's courtroom, and I hope I never will be.
Don't get me wrong: Judge Spencer is a distinguished jurist, a cum laude graduate of Harvard, first in his class at Howard University's divinity school, and the first African-American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He worked in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, and I have no doubt that his principles match his brilliance.
But Judge Spencer has got it wrong in the BlackBerry case. I'm not talking about the merits of NTP's patent infringement suit; I'm talking about Spencer's stubborn refusal to take into account the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's moves to invalidate NTP's patents. This week the Patent Office issued a preliminary ruling that struck down the fifth and final patent at issue in the NTP-RIM lawsuit. NTP will appeal that ruling; a final decision could come in the next 60 days -- or it could take years. (See Final NTP Patent Struck Down.)
Judge Spencer won't wait. He's repeatedly made it clear he has no intention of letting the slow grinding of the Patent Office's machinery affect his ruling re: RIM. "Frankly, it's highly unlikely that I'm going to stay these proceedings," Spencer said from the bench back in November. "I don't run [the Patent Office's] business and they don't run mine."
Well, nobody's trying to restrict your judicial independence, Judge Spencer, but the outcome of the RIM case is not just "your business" -- it's the business of millions of Blackberry users, too, who use the devices every day to keep the wheels of American commerce spinning. RIM may very well have based its business on second-hand technology; it certainly wouldn't be the first successful tech company to do so. But if the Patent Office strikes down NTP's patents, as appears likely, there's no case here. Maybe it's worth waiting a while longer to find that out.
If Judge Spencer's impatience prevails, though, Crackberry addicts can refer to this handy guide to how to deal if the worst-case scenario happens.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung