RIM in talks to end BlackBerry patent dispute

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Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the iconic BlackBerry communications device, and NTP, the US-based patents company, could be edging towards a new settlement of their long-running patent dispute.

RIM told Reuters that it had held talks through a court-appointed mediator with NTP, contradicting an earlier claim by NTP that no talks had taken place.

Reuters this week quoted Don Stout, a patent lawyer and one of NTP’s co-founders, saying the two companies had not talked since June about any settlement.

His claim was, however, rebutted in an e-mail by Mark Guibert, RIM’s vice president of corporate marketing: “As NTP knows, RIM and NTP had been communicating with each other through the court-appointed mediator during the last several days. We are precluded by law from discussing the substance of that exchange. RIM expects to continue communications through that channel.”

The talks come as the judge in the case considers arguments from both sides and a request by NTP for an injunction blocking BlackBerry sales in the US, RIM’s most important market.

Although RIM has insisted it has a “workaround” should an injunction be issued, concerns about disruption of sales of BlackBerrys and the BlackBerry “push email” service in the US have made both potential customers and investors increasingly nervous.

Earlier this week, RIM’s shares sank to a five-week low after Gartner, the IT consultancy, advised its customers to suspend BlackBerry deployments until the legal outcome was clearer.

Meanwhile, intellectual property experts – including Robert Greene Sterne, who has been following the case closely for his clients – have criticised the companies over the lack of a settlement.

“RIM continues to play Russian roulette with BlackBerry consumers and partners,” he said. “They need to respect the patent rights of NTP, the inventor and property owner. Instead, RIM is acting like a patent squatter by pursuing a scorched-earth legal strategy that will in the end burn its users and stakeholders.”

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