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RIM Strikes Back

Fighting back in the courts and in the marketplace, BlackBerry this week released a new, free version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) aimed at small businesses and single proprietors, and filed a countersuit against rival Visto Corp. , which last week sued RIM for patent infringement. (See Here We Go Again.)

Unlike the original Visto complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Tex., RIM's lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Dallas. The suit seeks to invalidate three of Visto's patents for mobile email and to move the Visto case to another court.

Last week Visto won a jury trial against Seven Networks Inc. in a similar patent infringement case in the Marshall federal court, which is considered one of the most congenial district courts in the country to patent-holders.

As it did in its long-running patent dispute with NTP Software, which was settled in early March when RIM agreed to pay NTP $612.5 million, RIM has responded aggressively to Visto's claims, saying it "will now also consider asserting its own patents against Visto."

The release of BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, meanwhile, marks a departure for the Waterloo, Ontario, mobile-email giant, which has built its business on selling BlackBerry devices and BES at healthy margins to large enterprises. Available via a free download to anyone who buys a new BlackBerry, BES Express is directed at small businesses and the self-employed who find a traditional BES (even in its Small Business version) too costly but want something more robust than the BlackBerry Internet Server, which uses third-party email services to deliver email to mobile devices.

The free download includes an individual customer license. RIM's BES Small Business Edition includes up to 15 user licenses.

"A lot of people find that [BlackBerry Internet Server] is sufficient at a 'prosumer' level, but we felt there was a gap in the market," James Hart, RIM's marketing director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, told ZDNet UK. "People wanted the reliability of an enterprise server." [Ed. note: Prosumer? Puh-leeeze!]

The new release is clearly a response to Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Windows Mobile 5.0, which includes a native mobile email program with a free upgrade to MS's Exchange Server. (See Microsoft's Push Comes to Shove.)

"I'd be interested in this if I were a small business person or even a small part of a larger business where I ran my own email," says Randy Sailer, director of telecommunications strategies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. "However, the licensing model makes it easy for a small shop to try it out without investing anything but some time."

RIM says that BES Express "provides the same enterprise-level security, reliability, features, and functionality of BlackBerry Enterprise Server v4." The critical issue for small-company IT managers to consider is the ease of installing the software, Sailer adds: "I wouldn't want to have to devote a lot of time getting it up and connected with my own systems."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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