NTP Patent Rejected

As the patent dispute between BlackBerry and NTP Software Inc. accelerates toward a conclusion, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today issued a final rejection of one of the mobile email patents held by NTP. The Patent Office has already issued preliminary rulings invalidating all five of the patents at issue in the case; today's edict marks the first official rejection of an NTP patent.

The Patent Office ruling comes just two days before a scheduled final hearing in the lawsuit filed by NTP against RIM for patent violation. U.S. District Judge James Spencer is expected to rule in that case on Friday or soon thereafter. NTP sued RIM for patent infringement four years ago and won a judgment that would shut down the Blackberry service and award substantial damages to NTP; RIM has appealed that ruling, so far unsuccessfully.

RIM executives were not immediately available for comment, but a statement released by the company notes that, "The rejections from the Patent Office were all based on multiple grounds, required the unanimous agreement of three senior patent examiners and are expected to withstand all future appeals by NTP."

NTP will almost certainly appeal today's ruling, and a decision on the appeal could come within 30 days -- or it could take months. Judge Spencer has issued a series of rulings in the case seen as unfavorable to RIM. On Tuesday he turned down a request from the U.S. Dept. of Justice to hold a separate hearing on exempting government users from any potential Blackberry shut down.

RIM has said repeatedly that it has a workaround solution ready to distribute in the event of a Blackberry shutdown. The workaround would supposedly keep the mobile email service running without disruption to the 4.3 million worldwide Blackberry users and without infringing on any NTP patents. Many enterprise IT managers have expressed skepticism about the feasibility of switching to a workaround solution.

Making it clear that he wishes to conclude the long-running RIM-NTP dispute, Judge Spencer has indicated more than once that he will not wait for a final decision from the Patent Office before issuing his own ruling. NTP has the right to appeal the Patent Office's decisions to the federal courts.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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