Research in Motion, manufacturer of the BlackBerry wireless email device, won a judicial reprieve on Friday when the judge at the centre of a four-year-old patent dispute stopped short of ordering an immediate shutdown of the service in the US.

But in a sign that the companies may be finally pushed into reaching a negotiated settlement, Judge James Spencer criticised the behaviour of both sides in the long-running patent infringement case.

Judge Spencer said he would decide on how much money RIM, based in Ontario, Canada, should pay NTP, a patent holding company, in damages before considering imposing some kind of injunction “as soon as reasonably possible”, perhaps as early as next week. Martin Glick, a lawyer for RIM, said after the hearing that talks to resolve the dispute were “active”.

RIM shares jumped by 11.5 per cent to $77.50 on the news. RIM gets 70 percent of its revenue from US operations.

Next week’s ruling could finally settle a dispute that has been grinding through the courts since NTP won a jury verdict in 2002 that RIM had infringed its patents.

With more than 3.2m BlackBerry users in the US including bankers, lawyers and corporate executives, RIM has argued that an immediate shutdown could cause significant economic disruption and pose a threat to national security.

However, independent lawyers have suggested that any injunction could be partial, for example by prohibiting RIM from signing new customers in the US but keeping a service for existing subscribers.

After hearing nearly four hours of arguments on Friday, Judge Spencer expressed scepticism about RIM’s claims of widespread disruption, and noted that the company had told investors that its software “work-around” would avoid interruptions to the service.

“The simple truth, the reality of the jury verdict has not changed,’’ Judge Spencer said, adding that the parties should have settled out of court.

“I am surprised, absolutely surprised, that you have left this incredibly important decision to the court,’’ Judge Spencer told representatives of both companies. “I have always felt it was a business decision.’’

NTP asked the court to order RIM to pay $126m in immediate damages no matter how the judge rules on a shutdown.

In depth: BlackBerry case

Blackberry on software “workaround”: Click here

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