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Suit Makes BlackBerry Whine

Wireless E-mail users should circle Feb. 24 on their calendars. That's when a federal judge may decide the future of Research In Motion's BlackBerry service in the United States based on a nasty patent dispute. Meantime, there's no lull in the action related to this dispute: Last week was filled with lawsuits, court rulings, patent decisions, and other actions that set the stage for the big day.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry service -- the big day approaches.

The big day approaches.
RIM won a victory when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a nonfinal ruling that rejects claims by patent-holding company NTP to one of the patents involved in the case. All of NTP's remaining patent claims have been rejected by the Patent Office. But it could take several years before final rulings are issued, since a case can be appealed several times, says John Rabena, a partner at Sughrue Mion, an intellectual-property law firm.

RIM also won a victory in the United Kingdom, where the High Court rejected patent claims by InPro, a Luxembourg company that's suing RIM for patent infringement.

Wireless E-mail provider Visto, which licenses some patents from NTP, filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against competitor Good Technology. It also told the federal court hearing the RIM-NTP case that it's capable of providing service to all BlackBerry users within 30 days if there's a BlackBerry shutdown. The vendor claims its wireless E-mail would make a good alternative to the BlackBerry service because it supports more devices.

The Justice Department, however, says a shutdown of the BlackBerry E-mail system would pose a problem for the federal government, which has tens of thousands of users.

Right now, BlackBerry's future rests in the hands of U.S. District Judge James Spencer. Attorneys for RIM and NTP last week filed final legal briefs before the Feb. 24 hearing, when RIM could find its service shut down for violating wireless E-mail patents even though the Patent Office says they should never have been granted.

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