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RIM Trumpets Workaround

Attempting to reassure increasingly nervous (and restless) mobile email customers, BlackBerry today provided further details on its proposed workaround solution for its popular Blackberry service.

Saying the new solution has been vetted by "a leading expert in patent law and workarounds from one of the world’s largest law firms," and will not require laborious re-installations for enterprise customers, the Waterloo, Ontario Company is calling the new design Blackberry Multi-Mode Edition and has filed new patent applications with the U.S. Patent Office to cover it.

RIM developed the alternative system as a fall-back in its ongoing legal dispute with NTP over the original patents for mobile email on which the Blackberry device and its back-end servers are based. NTP won an injunction against RIM in 2002 that would shut down the Blackberry service; that order is on hold pending appeal. U.S. district judge James R. Spencer has set a Feb. 24 hearing date for final arguments in the case, and has made it clear that he will not put off his ruling until after a final decision on the validity of the NTP patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Patent Office has issued a series of preliminary findings that would invalidate the five patents held by NTP. (See Supreme Court Rejects RIM.)

“RIM remains pragmatic and reasonable in its willingness to enter into a settlement that would generously compensate NTP while protecting RIM’s business and partners,” said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM, in a statement this morning. “NTP’s public offer of a so-called ‘reasonable’ license, however, is simply untenable."

Many IT managers have questioned RIM's assurances that a feasible workaround will be available in the event of a Blackberry shutdown. (See Blackberry Users Cling Tightly.)

Daniel Taylor, managing director of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance , surveyed around two dozen Alliance enterprise members in December. "After listening to briefings on RIM's workaround," says Taylor in an email, "the sentiment was that RIM was attempting to sell IT management a 'bill of goods.'"

The concerns of enterprise IT managers, Taylor adds, include "the prospect of installing a software patch on the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), being forced into a BES version upgrade, pushing over-the-air updates to Blackberry devices, and going into production without the ability to test the new software or to follow well-established processes for updates and deployments."

The new workaround has been successfully tested and will attempt to allay many of those concerns, according to RIM.

"The software is capable of operating in different modes that can be remotely activated by RIM through its Network Operations Center," the statement said. "In the event of an injunction, RIM is able to remotely activate 'US Mode' via its NOC and the workaround designs would automatically engage for each handset containing the Multi-Mode Edition software update."

Many enterprise users of Blackberry continue to hope for a peaceful resolution of the dispute, now in its fifth year.

"We are in denial right now," says Maria Krueger, assistant VP for information services at Little Rock-based investment house Stephens Inc., which has more than 250 corporate Blackberries in use, "hoping this all passes without service disruption."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

daniel.taylor 12/5/2012 | 4:06:42 AM
re: RIM Trumpets Workaround It's easy to confuse what RIM claims to have "solved" and "tested" with the other components involved in the workaround. In the press, these different components are like ships passing in the night, with a solid answer for one confused as a solid answer for another.

Assuming that there is an injunction (and that's a big "if") and RIM deploys the workaround, and assuming further that the workaround is legal and the judge in the case does not hold RIM in contempt; then there will be three components of the workaround.

1) Over-the-air updates to BlackBerry devices. It is unclear whether RIM will handle this or if individual IT departments will push these updates out.

2) Software in RIM's NOC. RIM has probably already installed this software and tested it with existing and "multi-mode" devices.

3) Individual BlackBerry Enterprise Server deployments. This software is invisible to most corporate BlackBerry users, but it's the sticking point in the workaround. IT departments have to test and debug any new software installation, especially networked software, because there are always bugs and conflicts that the vendor cannot anticipate.

So, RIM is talking about (1) and (2), and the company is probably right. The over-the-air update for the BlackBerry device works just fine. The software in RIM's NOC works just fine. But that does not mean that thousands of corporate BES installations will go "live" without a hitch.
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