Judges Will Soon Decide the BlackBerry’s Fate

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A ruling is expected soon in a court case that will decide whether the BlackBerry line of wireless handhelds will continue to thrive or pass into the history books.

Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry line, has been involved in a bitter patent-infringement lawsuit with NTP Inc. for several years.

At issue is a dispute over eight patents held by NTP that relate to wireless email processing. NTP contends that RIM’s BlackBerry handhelds infringe on those patents and filed suit in November 2001, seeking to prevent RIM from selling the devices. In November of 2002, a U.S. jury found in NTP’s favor.

In August 2003, at NTP’s request, a judge issued an injunction that completely blocks RIM from selling BlackBerries in the U.S. However, the judge also ruled that this not go into effect until after RIM has had a chance to appeal the decision. That appeal happened last June in Washington, but the three-judge panel has yet to announce a ruling.

This ruling is expected to come any day now, and nervousness has driven the cost of RIM shares down sharply. Early last week, the company’s stock was trading at almost $95. Currently, it is selling for less tham $80.

Maneuvering for Position

No matter what the appeals court rules, it’s possible this won’t be the end of RIM. Many experts believe NTP just wants RIM to pay it a fee to license the patents, as NTP doesn’t make a rival wireless handheld.

However, RIM continues to insist that NTP’s patents are invalid and refuses to license them. The companies have gone into court-ordered negotiations on this issue before, but were unable to come to an agreement.

If NTP emerges victorious from this process, it’s possible that RIM will give in and pay the fees, rather than shut down operations in the U.S. However, this isn’t certain.

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