What patent dispute is about; what it means for BlackBerry users

Worried about Blackberry service and the lawsuits? A straigtforward Q & A below. This may easy your worries...

What patent dispute is about; what it means for BlackBerry users

By Jessie Seyfer
Mercury News

Worried your thumbs won't get their exercise if a patent fight over your BlackBerry shuts down the device's e-mail service? Stay calm. Most experts don't expect an outright shutdown. Here are some frequently asked questions about the Research In Motion-NTP dispute and how it could affect the more than 3 million BlackBerry owners in the United States.

Q So, what's this brouhaha about?
A In 2001, NTP, a company that owns mobile e-mail-related patents, sued Canadian company Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry device, in Virginia federal court. NTP accused RIM of using its patents in the hugely popular BlackBerrys without giving it any money or credit. In 2002, a jury found in favor of NTP. RIM appealed, and the appellate court sided mainly with the lower court's ruling in favor of NTP.

Q So what's the latest?
A The companies continue to argue about what RIM should pay NTP for using its patents. In September, the U.S. Patent Office said it may reject NTP's patents. But in November, a Virginia federal judge said he would like to end the matter soon -- no matter what the Patent Office decides -- by either approving a settlement between the companies or issuing an injunction to block RIM's business in the United States. Even if the judge were to order a shutdown, many believe there would be some period -- 30 to 60 days -- for people to switch to other devices, or for RIM to come up with a technical solution that would not violate NTP patents. Last weekend, NTP rejected another settlement offer by RIM.
Gartner, an industry research group, said earlier this month that it was highly probable that the companies would reach a settlement by the end of the year.

Q If I own a BlackBerry, why does it matter whether a Canadian company gets blocked in the United States?
A Because when you send an e-mail from your BlackBerry, it goes to RIM's computer servers in Canada before being routed to its destination. This process is central to the patent dispute, so if RIM is not allowed to route e-mail from the United States in this way, it could affect your service.

Q If I own a BlackBerry and the judge blocks RIM from routing e-mails, what's going to happen to my service?
A The judge will probably give RIM a period of time to implement a ``work-around'' solution. Experts say that for the past year RIM has most likely been developing a way to route e-mail so as not to infringe on NTP's patents. Yet even if it works, there will probably be some disruption in BlackBerry service, such as delayed or lost messages, as the system is changed over. The phone functions of BlackBerry devices are not expected to be affected under any scenario.