I'm in the process of writing up my review of an interview with Research in Motion (RIM) president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. It appears as though RIM, maker of the infamous BlackBerry wireless mobile messaging devices, is near the end of its legal rope in a patent infringement case that was filed against it by NTP. Lazaridis is prevented from discussing matters relating to the case with the press. But, in preparation for the interview, I decided to look further into the legal situation in the event that I could at least get him to address the question of what the company's contingency plans were (to keep customers up and running) should it be forced to shut down its mobile messaging network. That possibility is a real one and Reuters has already reported that the company has readied a workaround. But what that workaround is, Lazaridis wouldn't say in my call with him.
Today, NTP and RIM were sent to work things out using a court appointed mediator -- a move that could signal U.S. District Judge James Spencer's disposition to rule in favor of NTP. But, based on what I can gather, there's a serious problem with the due process that's being applied in this case. As it turns out, the US Patent and Trademark Office (the USPTO) issued a preliminary finding last week that -- in combination with previous rulings -- could mean the invalidation of all of the patents on which NTP's infringement suit is based. Let me repeat that: based on the USPTO's preliminary findings, NTP could have no case. Notta. Zilch. Nothing. Based on the existence of what is called "prior art," NTP's claims could be baseless. Apparently, based on the USPTO's legendary reputation for moving like molasses and the fact that the USPTO's finding is only preliminary (it's still possible for the final determination to swing the other way in favor of NTP), the Judge doesn't want to wait and is insisting on closure now. So, now, RIM is basically being forced to license a patent from a company that may not have that patent.
Either something's wrong with this picture, or I'm missing something. If I am (and I fully admit that I could be.. I've come into this pretty late), please say so using our comments section below. Otherwise, if the NTP vs. RIM case continues to its conclusion without waiting for the USPTO to render its final decision, this will not only be one of the worst miscarriages of patent-related justice I have seen, it will be emblematic of the so many things that are wrong with the existing patent system. If the USPTO can't state, then the Judge must wait. Write your Congressperson. Write a blog. Do something. But don't stand idly by while this non-sensical charade continues.
Update: In search of anything that suggests I'm missing some of the facts, I've linked up some news about the USPTO's most recent and preliminary findings (replete with editorialization). Clearly, judging by some of these headlines, other journalists saw the USPTO ruling as good news for RIM. But so far, in a defiance of common sense, it is not:
- Forbes: RIM's legal clouds may be lifting (you'd think)
- CBR (UK): Patent office ruling good news for RIM (apparently not)
- Top Tech News: RIM wins patent victory (stop the presses!)
- Inquirer (UK): Patent Office rejects NTP RIM patent (but Judge doesn't)
- Globe & Mail (CA): Loss in patent war renews RIM's fight (any one see the ref?)
- ZDNet UK: RIM regains lost ground in patent dispute (gets an inch, but NTP gets a mile)
- Marketwatch: RIM shares rise on Patent Office ruling (silly stockholders, relying on common sense)
- Canoe (CA): NTP lawyer says USPTO ruling won't affect battle (arrogant, but apparently right)
- InternetNews: PTO hands RIM a rare win (but even this hangin' Judge won't notice)
- Forbes: Momentum in patent case seen shifting to favor RIM (more like shifting into reverse)
- PDABlast: RIM gets some bright news (sounds like weatherman-like accuracy)
- The News-Review: RIM makes progress in BlackBerry battle (but wakes up moments later)