Supreme Court may consider BlackBerry case

BlackBerry users are crossing their thumbs in hopes that the Supreme Court intervenes in the long-running patent dispute over the wireless handheld e-mail devices.

Attorneys involved in the case expect the high court to consider a petition from BlackBerry developer Research in Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario, to review an appeals court decision that ruled the company's technology infringed upon patents owned by patent holding company NTP Inc. of Arlington, Va. The court will hold a conference to consider this petition and others Jan. 20.

A decision on whether the high court will hear the case could be announced as early as Jan. 23, attorneys for both companies said.

RIM filed the brief in December, claiming that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in an August decision left open for interpretation whether NTP's patents apply to Internet technology housed outside the United States.

In this case, RIM says its Network Control Center, which processes nearly 100 million e-mails a day from BlackBerry users, should be exempt from patent infringement cases because it is in Canada.

'In its ' opinions, the federal circuit clearly struggles with the important Internet Age question of whether a transnational high technology system can be used 'within the United States' under' the Patent Act, 'even though it has very significant foreign components, here a Canadian Network Control Center, that is fundamental to the operation of the whole system,' RIM wrote.

If the high court takes up the case, it could prompt a lower court that is holding a hearing on NTP's request for an injunction'likely to be held next month'to stay its proceedings until the Supreme Court rules, said RIM attorney Herbert Fenster of McKenna Long and Aldridge LLP of Washington.

'This could have a significant impact on the injunction case,' Fenster added.

The circuit court is expected to hold hearings on the injunction this winter, with briefs due Jan. 17.

At issue is the long-running and complicated patent infringement case that threatens the usage of BlackBerry devices worldwide.

NTP claimed in November 2001 that RIM's BlackBerry technology infringed upon several patents the firm registered with the Patent and Trademark Office.

It sought an injunction against BlackBerry usage from the 4th U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., while PTO determines whether NTP's claims are legitimate.

To date, the government has rejected NTP's claims, although a handful remain under investigation.

Threats of an injunction fueled fears in government and industry about how users will cope without their 'crackberries,' as some who have become hooked on using the devices call them. Although RIM says it has a workaround plan that would exempt federal, state and local employees from any shutdown, it is unclear just how that would happen.


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