Patent licensing under scrutiny in BlackBerry case

The long-running patent infringement dispute over the popular BlackBerry handheld devices may demonstrate the need to reform how the government issues patents, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said.

In a letter today Davis, who chairs the House Government Reform Committee, said the BlackBerry case exposed inefficiencies with how the Patent and Trademark Office operates and asked PTO director Jon Dudas if changes are needed.

'I ask you to provide me with your assessment of the current patent examination and reexamination processes, what reforms are needed, and how current shortcomings impact bringing new technological developments to the marketplace,' Davis wrote.

BlackBerry developer Research in Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Canada, has been embroiled in a patent dispute with licensing firm NTP Inc. of Arlington, Va., for nearly five years. NTP claims RIM infringed upon several patents it owned when it started marketing BlackBerry devices worldwide.

While a federal court will hold a hearing next month into whether BlackBerry usage should be halted, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is re-examining several patents NTP claims RIM has infringed since 2003. Thus far, the PTO has rejected NTP's infringement claims, but those decisions are subject to judicial review.

Davis said that had the PTO done a better job handling NTP's patents from the start, the threat of a BlackBerry injunction would be nonexistent.

'If adequate resources were utilized to determine the initial validity of [NTP's] patents, this controversy could have been avoided,' Davis wrote. 'Additionally, if RIM's re-examination requests had been acted upon more expeditiously, the current uncertainty could have been resolved long before it threatened critical service to the government and consumers.'

An NTP spokeswoman could not comment on the letter.

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