Around 375,000 users of BlackBerry wireless e-mail in the UK breathed easier on Thursday after a High Court judge in London ruled in favour of Research In Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of the portable devices, in a patent dispute which could have disrupted service.
Mr Justice Pumfrey, a senior patent judge, ruled that RIM should succeed in its application to revoke a UK patent held by Inpro Licencing, a patent licencing business, which - had it been valid - could have been infringed by the BlackBerry system.
According to lawyers, the Inpro patent related to a computer system that reduced the processing power used by portable computers and other devices in accessing servers on the internet. In particular, it described using a proxy server to download and then transpose data from the web.
RIM had applied to the English courts to revoke the Inpro patent on the grounds that it was invalid because of “lack of novelty” and “obviousness”.
Inpro counterclaimed for infringement of the patent, and also joined T-Mobile, one of the mobile phone operators that handles the BlackBerry service, into the proceedings.
The judgment was not made public immediately because of possible confidentiality issues. Instead the judge simply announced in court that RIM and T-Mobile had been “entirely successful” in the case.
But lawyers said afterwards that the judge had held that all the claims in issue were either obvious or lacking in novelty.
Issues of costs incurred in the patent case - running to several million pounds - and any possible appeal will be dealt with at a later hearing.
The High Court ruling follows a decision in favour of RIM in the German courts in the week over the German version of the Inpro patent - although this, too, could be subject to appeal.
Nevertheless, lawyers for RIM said on Thursday that the two rulings gave “legal and commercial certainty to the extent that RIM’s BlackBerry device and system [would] not be injuncted and neither RIM nor its customers... required to pay damages or take a licence in relation to the relevant patents”.
RIM's separate dispute with NTP, a US-based patent firm, in the US remains to be resolved, with a key hearing scheduled for February 24.