Judge holds off on injunction against BlackBerry devices

BlackBerry users breathed a collective sigh of relief today when a federal judge overseeing the long-running patent infringement lawsuit involving BlackBerry developer Research in Motion Ltd. refused to impose an immediate shutdown of the popular devices.

But that does not mean that an injunction isn't coming, as federal judge James Spencer said he will issue a final decision in the case as soon as is practical, his office said.

Spencer made no final ruling today, his office said, but he did conclude a hearing into whether he should impose an injunction that would shut down the BlackBerry network and devices because of claims upheld by federal courts that Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM infringed upon several patents owned by Arlington, Va.-based developer NTP Inc.

NTP has alleged, and the courts have upheld, that RIM willfully violated NTP's patents when the Canadian firm started marketing its BlackBerry devices several years ago.

If Spencer imposes an injunction, it remains unclear how it could affect government users of BlackBerrys. Although existing law would exempt federal, state and local government users from any shutdown, neither NTP nor RIM'nor the federal government, for that matter'are in agreement on how that exemption could be sustained.

Spencer did not take any action today regarding a government exemption. Earlier this week, he denied the Justice Department's request for additional hearings into the matter.

Meanwhile, RIM received a bit of good news heading into today's hearing when the Patent and Trademark Office rejected the last of three remaining patent infringement claims that NTP raised against RIM's BlackBerry products.

NTP can and is expected to appeal the decisions, and Spencer has said in the past that the PTO actions will not have an impact on his decision regarding an injunction.

The PTO actions are called 're-examinations' because they are reviewing earlier decisions that found that RIM did infringe upon NTP's patents.

The re-examination process has raised the ire of some in Congress. Last month, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said that the RIM case has exposed inefficiencies with how the PTO operates.

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