IT Confidential: A Low-Key Moment With The High Court

Supreme Court justices are smoking over BlackBerrys, the Patent Office, and intellectual-property issues.

John Soat, Contributor

October 28, 2005

3 Min Read

SCENE: Outside. Early evening. Washington, D.C. A few steps from the back door of the Supreme Court building. Recently appointed Chief Justice John Roberts is smoking a cigarette and thumbing away on his BlackBerry, when soon-to-retire Justice Sandra Day O'Connor steps out. She acknowledges him as she lights up a cigarette and exhales a long stream of smoke.

O'CONNOR: Can't smoke anywhere anymore.

ROBERTS: Tell me about it. So I guess you'll be with us for a while longer, huh?

O'CONNOR: Unfortunately. This time around, I hope we get a candidate with a little more experience.

ROBERTS: Don't hold your breath. But who am I to talk?

O'CONNOR: What've you got there?

ROBERTS: A BlackBerry. I'm trying to get the line on the football games this weekend.

O'CONNOR: Didn't you just rule against those BlackBerry guys?

ROBERTS: I denied their motion for an emergency ruling. NTP, a patent-holding company, claims BlackBerrys exploit its patented technology. NTP wants an injunction to stop BlackBerrys from being sold until they get a settlement on licensing fees. And it looks like the appeals court might go along. Research In Motion, the company that makes BlackBerrys, tried to get us to step in. RIM pointed out that the Patent Office recently re-examined the patents in question and ruled against all of them.

O'CONNOR: Didn't cut any ice with you, huh?

ROBERTS: I figure we can let the lower court work it out. That's what those guys get paid for.

O'CONNOR: I hate those patent cases. It's all technology mumbo-jumbo.

ROBERTS: The Internet doesn't help matters--it's just one big legal swamp, if you ask me. And all those dot-com patents are still floating around out there.

O'CONNOR: What're those people over at Patent doing, anyway? They let these claims sail through that have no more basis in reality than flying monkeys. They're asleep at the wheel.

ROBERTS: Now, now, Sandy, we mustn't let our preconceived notions cloud our legal judgment.

O'CONNOR: Save it for the suckers.

ROBERTS: We've got a beauty coming up this week--a patent case against eBay. Small-time inventor claims he thought up online auctions before the eBay people made a business out of it. And he's got the patents to prove it. David-versus-Goliath, idea-guy-versus-implementer--you know the drill.

O'CONNOR: Kinda puts us between a rock and a hard place, doesn't it?

ROBERTS: Yeah, well, just wait till we start getting some Internet privacy cases. That new technology, RFID, has privacy lawsuits written all over it.

O'CONNOR: Glad I'm getting out. Did you ever think you'd have to take a crash course in computer technology?

ROBERTS: No--and I never will!


NOTE: I'm fairly certain that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor don't smoke, so that's a bit of creative license on my part. Otherwise, I stand by my dramatic recreation. Smoke 'em if you got 'em--and if you have an industry tip, send it to [email protected], or phone 516-562-5326.

Unafraid to wade into the technology swamp? So is The News Show, which you can see every weekday at noon EST, at

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights