Westlake Village (CA) – As the NTP versus RIM patent fight nears its final stages, RIM has announced their “multi-mode” workaround, just in case the company would be forced to shutdown its Blackberry service. Designed to not violate any of the five disputed patents, the workaround is a software patch that has to be installed on both the BlackBerry handheld devices and BlackBerry servers.
According to RIM’s press release and white papers, the software basically changes how messages are delivered and queued up. Patent lawyers have already assured RIM that the workaround will not violate patents and, not surprisngly, the company even plans on filing a patent that covers the workaround.
RIM’s workaround, officially called “BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition” (MME), is a software update that is installed on BlackBerry handheld devices and Enterprise servers. In addition, wireless carriers that offer the Internet email service – a service which redirects regular emails to the BlackBerry device – will need to install the update to their servers.
MME changes how messages are delivered and queued on the backend and makes the email delivery substantially different the methods described in the patents. The workaround forces BlackBerry servers to send saved email messages to the handheld device, instead of having RIM’s network operations center (NOC) send them – which is what happens currently. This new solution forces carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile as well as corporate BlackBerry servers to step in and act as a middle-man between RIM’s NOC and the device. The software itself will not affect how the end user checks or receives their email, according to RIM.
NTP has a total of 24 patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), but only five of those patents are mentioned in the firm’s 2001 lawsuit against RIM. NTP won the lawsuit as well as $60.3 million in damages. The case has been appealed repeatedly by RIM and involved a $450 million settlement in 2005 that, however, fell through. It is believed that NTP could squeeze more than $1 billion out of RIM, if an injunction against the service is granted.
The case has even gone as high as the United States Supreme Court when RIM petitioned for a hearing. However, the court refused the request and the issue is back in US District Court Judge Spencer’s lap.
Parallel to the court battle, another battle is being waged inside of the Patent Office. The PTO has given a “non-final” rejection to all of the five disputed patents, but a final rejection could still be a year or two away. With an internal court system, even these “final” rejections can be “appealed” to a USPTO Appellate Board and then to the United States Court of Appeals – a process that could take several years more.
On 24 February, RIM and NTP are scheduled to appear in Spencer’s courtroom for a final hearing process. It could be bad for RIM, as Spencer mentioned that he was inclined to enforce the judgments and not wait for a final decision of the PTO.
However, a shutdown and the unavailability of the BlackBerry service for more than four million users is considered as extremely unlikely in any scenario. According to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, a settlement that is reached before February 24 will be the most likely outcome of the case. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, Dulaney said, Spencer would be expected to impose an injunction but stay that injunction pending on the final decision of the PTO. A shutdown of the service is currently considered the “least likely” outcome, according to Dulaney.