The Legal Wars

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The Legal Wars There’s little doubt that we’ve become an increasingly litigious society, and there’s ample evidence of that in the handheld industry. In fact, one of its prime players, Research In Motion (RIM), has spent so much time in courtrooms lately that the online publication The Register has begun to refer to it as Lawsuits In Motion.

But the recent decision by Palm to abandon Graffiti, a decision prompted by its pending litigation with Xerox, raises the issue of whether these lawsuits can actually change the face of handheld computing.

Well, here are just a few of the lawsuits — both settled and pending — that we’ve uncovered. You decide.

Xerox vs. Palm

In the 1980s, Xerox watched as several key technologies developed in its PARC laboratories, including the mouse and the graphical user interface, were literally stolen from under its nose. But in 1997, Xerox said enough is enough. It filed suit against Palm, claiming that Graffiti, Palm’s handwriting recognition software, was essentially derived from Xerox’s patented Unistrokes technology.

At first it appeared that Palm had dodged this legal bullet when, in June 2000, a federal judge dismissed the case. But in late 2001, Xerox won a reversal in the U.S. Court of Appeals and the lawsuit was back on. Palm, while confident it will win in appeals court, recently decided to hedge its bet by abandoning its single-stroke version of Graffiti in future version of its operating system to avoid additional penalties, should it lose the suit to Xerox.

Lexar Media vs. SanDisk

The trouble between these two Storage card manufacturers began in 1998, when SanDisk sued Lexar, alleging that Lexar’s CompactFlash and PC Cards infringed on a SanDisk patent. Lexar countered by suing SanDisk in September 2002, alleging SanDisk’s SmartMedia products infringed on a Lexar patent. Turns out they were both guilty. In November 2002, Lexar agreed to pay SanDisk $8 million to cover royalties on the patent, while SanDisk agreed to pay Lexar $2 million.

Research In Motion vs. Glenayre

This one goes all the way back to 1999 when Glenayre first filed suit against RIM. RIM countered in May 2001 with a lawsuit of its own, charging that Glenayre infringed on RIM’s Single Mailbox Integration Patent. They settled in 2002, with both parties acknowledging the validity of RIM’s Single Mailbox Integration and agreeing to dismiss all pending claims.

Still, the “single mailbox” issue did not end there for RIM.

Good Technology vs. Research In Motion

When Good Technology decided to compete in the wireless email device space in mid-20002, it knew that RIM would not stand idly by. So rather than wait to be sued by RIM, Good decided to turn the tables. In May 2002, Good asked a U.S. District Court in California to declare RIM’s Single Mailbox Integration patent invalid, or to declare that Good is not violating the patent. And while the litigation is working its way through the courts, Good has landed important agreements with PalmSource and Microsoft for its GoodLink wireless synchronization software.

Research In Motion vs. Good Technology

In June 2002, less than a month after Good Technology sued RIM, RIM countered by filing a complaint against Good in U.S. District Court. The complaint alleged that Good Technology’s wireless goods and services infringe on four RIM patents within its Wireless Integration Patent Portfolio. In July, RIM followed up by filing a second complain against Good, this time alleging that Good infringed on a portion of RIM’s Copyright Portfolio associated with the user interface on RIM’s line of BlackBerry Wireless Handhelds. Two weeks later there was a third complaint, with RIM alleging that Good engaged in unfair competition, false advertising, trademark infringement and trademark dilution resulting in the unlawful use of the RIM and BlackBerry marks. Finally, RIM filed a fourth suit in September 2002, alleging that Good Technology engaged in misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, tortious interference with contracts and prospective economic relations, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, and civil conspiracy. Yes, this one is sure to get nasty.

Research In Motion vs. Handspring

In September 2002, Research in Motion sued Handspring for allegedly violating its patents on keyboard design. By year-end, Handspring — and Palm as well — had licensed the patents from RIM and the lawsuit was dropped.

NTP vs. Research In Motion

While RIM ran around suing the world, NTP, Inc. filed a complaint with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that threatened RIM’s existence, and won. In a $23 million judgment in November 2002, NTP proved that certain RIM products infringed on patents held by NTP Inc. that cover the use of radio frequency wireless communications in electronic mail systems. The jury verdict remains subject to post-trial motions and appeal.

We’ll keep an eye on these, and any upcoming, legal matters that affect the handheld industry.



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