A federal judge moved a step closer Wednesday to re-issuing an injunction that threatens BlackBerry e-mail service in this country, placing...
RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge moved a step closer Wednesday to re-issuing an injunction that threatens BlackBerry e-mail service in this country, placing more pressure on the wireless device’s maker, Research In Motion (RIM), to settle the patent case.
The judge rejected RIM’s bid to enforce a preliminary $450 million settlement reached earlier this year with NTP, a small firm that has convinced a jury that BlackBerry infringes on its patents for wireless communication.
In another blow, U.S. District Judge James Spencer turned down the Canadian company’s request to delay the case pending final word from the U.S. patent office, which has preliminarily rejected the patents at the heart of the lawsuit.
Spencer next plans to address damages and, once again, an injunction would force RIM to halt BlackBerry service in the U.S. After a jury decided against RIM in 2002, Spencer held off on the injunction pending appeals.
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Analysts and industry observers say RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, will likely be forced to settle the lawsuit for as much as $1 billion. Still, some also say RIM’s hands aren’t completely tied; it’s also somewhat unlikely NTP would want to force a shutdown, a scenario that could leave it with a smaller payoff.
“I think there’s going to be a settlement, and it’s just a matter of how much is to be coerced out of them,” said Rod Thompson, a San Francisco patent attorney.
In a statement, RIM said it has been preparing technology that would keep its service running in the U.S., where most of its 3.65 million BlackBerry customers are based. But analysts, however, are skeptical about any workaround.
James Wallace Jr., an attorney for NTP, said he hoped the judge’s decisions would “bring the parties back to the table.”
RIM says an injunction would be inappropriate for a number of reasons, including the patent-office proceedings, public-interest concerns and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear an appeal in the eBay v. MercExchange case that addresses the use of injunctions in patent suits.
In the meantime, RIM’s customers, some of whom warmly refer to their devices as CrackBerries for their addictive use, are worried.
Among those concerned is the U.S. government, which has thousands of employees with BlackBerries, though NTP has promised that the injunction wouldn’t apply to government and emergency employees in the U.S.
Shares of RIM fell $3.79, or about 5.8 percent, to $61.13 in Wednesday’s trading. The stock has tumbled 41 percent over the past year after peaking at $103.56 last December.