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Optical/IP

NTP Takes Another Shot

Having scored against BlackBerry , NTP Inc. is going after another big name in mobile messaging: Palm Inc.

NTP, a patent-holding company based in Arlington, Va., said today it has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Palm for violating intellectual property relating to mobile email. Palm, the maker of the popular Treo smartphone, responded that it will vigorously defend itself against what it considers an "unwarranted lawsuit" based "on patents of doubtful validity."

That may not prove to be an effective long-term strategy, because NTP has already shown itself to be a tenacious and patient litigant. Last March, after a legal fight that dragged on for years, RIM, maker of the popular BlackBerry devices, settled with NTP for $612.5 million. (See RIM, NTP Come to Terms.)

The lawsuit says that Palm has violated seven patents that date from 1995 to 2001, including five that were included in the RIM suit. The patent-infringement lawsuit, said NTP co-founder Donald E. Stout in a statement, is a "last resort to protect our valuable intellectual property."

The patents held by NTP are based on work done in the 1980s by the late Thomas Campana, who co-founded NTP. Those patents went unused for years before BlackBerries took off in the late 1990s. Now, with mobile email exploding and dozens of new products coming out from both startups and large manufacturers, NTP has adopted a strategy of aggressive litigation against companies it sees as violating Campana's patents.

The statement from Palm said that company officials have been " in occasional contact with NTP concerning a license to these patents." Noting that all of the patents are undergoing re-examination proceedings by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the statement continues, "Palm is disappointed that, after many months of silence and repeated rejections of NTP’s claims by the PTO, NTP has chosen to sue on patents of doubtful validity."

Investors seem mostly untroubled by the news: after dipping sharply this morning, Palm shares have actually climbed 3.6 percent on the Nasdaq today.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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