A U.S. judge has delayed ruling on the shutdown of the BlackBerry wireless e- mail service, giving the company that developed it – and its millions of owners another reprieve in a long-running patent dispute.A U.S. judge on Friday delayed ruling on the shutdown of the BlackBerry wireless e- mail service, giving the company that developed it – and its 3.2 million users in the United States – another reprieve in a long-running patent dispute.
Judge James Spencer of U.S. District Court in Richmond declined to rule on an injunction that would have forced the BlackBerry’s developer, Research In Motion, to terminate the popular service and escalated its long-running dispute with NTP. The judge said he was disappointed that Research In Motion and its adversary, NTP, had not been able to reach a settlement. He said he would first rule on the damages in the case before ruling on a shutdown.
“I am absolutely surprised that you have left this incredibly important and significant decision to the court,” Spencer said toward the end of a hearing that lasted almost four hours. “I have always thought that this decision, in the end, was a business decision.”
A few hours earlier, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a final rejection of the third NTP patent that forms the basis of the company’s case against RIM, which is based in Waterloo, Ontario. The three rulings are subject to lengthy appeals, and Spencer has said they would not influence the progress of the case he is overseeing.
News of the delay in imposing an injunction on the BlackBerry e-mail service sent shares of RIM rising $4.52 to close at $74.05 on the Nasdaq stock market.
Investors have been anxiously following the legal dispute, as have users of the BlackBerry, which include members of Congress, White House officials and Wall Street bankers, who are concerned that the service they rely on, and some acknowledge being addicted to, may be hampered.
The courtroom here was filled to capacity with reporters and lawyers, and news trucks lined up early in the morning near the courthouse to prepare for the hearing. Some news organizations sent representatives to the courthouse as early as 3 a.m. to secure a spot in the courtroom.
After the hearing, a lawyer for RIM said it was important not to disrupt what has become a vital telecommunications service.
“Remember the test here was, will an injunction hurt the public interest,” said the lawyer, Henry Bunsow.
NTP, which is based in Arlington, Virginia, is seeking a percentage of RIM’s revenue for the life of its patents, an amount estimated by analysts at $1 billion.
“We want to keep you in business,” James Wallace, an attorney for NTP, said in reference to RIM. “It’s just time to pay up. What we have got here is a squatter.”
Even if it had lost Friday, RIM says it has developed a workaround that would allow its users to continue to receive and send e-mail without relying on technology based on the disputed patents. Users would have to download a new piece of software to their devices for the alternate system to work. NTP is expected to challenge the legal validity of the workaround.
Any shutdown would not have stopped service provided to the government and certain emergency workers, like those for the Red Cross. The shutdown also would not have affected the one million BlackBerry users in Canada, Europe and the rest of the world.
Some corporate and individual users of the BlackBerry service have purchased competing devices made by Nokia and Motorola, but many were expected to rely on RIM’s workaround. Analysts have questioned how quickly RIM would be able to move users to the alternate system, details of which the company has refused to share, and whether it would be as fast and hardy as the company’s current technology.