RIM hit by BlackBerry patent setback

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Canada’s Research In Motion on Monday suffered a setback in the patent dispute over its BlackBerry wireless e-mail when the US Supreme Court refused to consider RIM’s claim that American courts had no right to block the service in the US.

The decision, while not unexpected, makes it more likely that the Canadian company will be ordered to suspend BlackBerry services in the US – a move that would affect 3m users including many senior business users and Wall Street traders. RIM had argued that two lower courts improperly extended US patent law to cover the BlackBerry service, even though it runs on computers based in Canada. The Supreme Court justices, however, declined to consider the argument and made no comment.

RIM has been locked in a patent infringement dispute with NTP, a US-based patent form, since 2002. Last week both RIM and NTP submitted arguments to the federal judge in Richmond, Virginia, who is considering imposing an injunction after a jury ruled that RIM had infringed patents held by NTP.

RIM argued that the BlackBerry service was an essential part of the US business and security infrastructure that would be threatened by an injunction.

The judge has yet to set a date for considering arguments.

If an injunction were to be imposed, NTP has agreed that government employees, including those at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice department, would be excluded from any service suspension.

In the meantime, in an effort to calm the concerns of corporate customers, RIM claims it has developed a software “workaround” that would enable the service to continue to operate if the judge issues an injunction ordering suspension.

The issue before the Supreme Court yesterday was whether a federal appeals court was right to extend US patent law – which bars unauthorised use of a patented invention “within the US” – to cover the BlackBerry service, since an essential part of its operations take place in Canada.

Steve Maebius, a patent expert at law firm Foley & Lardner, said courts around the world have been struggling with the issue of when their national patent laws should apply across borders.

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