Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 2/12/2005Today is a day of questions, if not of answers. The non-smoker may ask themselves: what is this packet of Lucky Strikes doing in my pocket?

Friday 2/12/2005

Today is a day of questions, if not of answers. The non-smoker may ask themselves: what is this packet of Lucky Strikes doing in my pocket? The uxorious may wonder: who is Kaz and why is her number in my mobile phone? The normally abstemious may puzzle: who stole my higher consciousness and replaced it with the hindbrain of an angry alligator? It's no good asking one's colleagues. Sentience is in short supply.

Skip forward a week…

Friday 9/12/2005 …and the pain has gone. Or rather, it's retreated enough for pleasure to once again be taken in the pain of others. Schadenfreude is a nasty and destructive state of mind, especially when some of those who suffer are hard-working people whose success may be taken from them by the machinations of a rapacious and capricious system.

Yet it would take a heart of stone not to laugh. The story, still unresolved at the time of writing, involves Research in Motion who — as you surely know — has been involved in a long and expensive legal battle with a company called NTP over who invented certain key technologies in the BlackBerry portable email system. Now, this has turned into a tussle of mind-mangling complexity, running up and down the US court system, spawning sideshows in the patent offices and generally keeping a very large number of lawyers in clover for many years. As such things do.

Things have come to a pretty pass. Although all but one of the patents have been dismissed and the last one is looking shaky, the courts have decided that NTP should prevail. RIM disagrees, which means an ugly game of brinkmanship. The odds of the US BlackBerry networking being turned off by judicial fiat are shortening by the day.

One may draw certain lessons from this. Yes, it is possible for a patent dispute to close down a product or service. Are your disaster recovery protocols good enough to cope were this to happen to one of your key technologies? And yes, technology companies are increasingly liable to patent-based assault. If you work in technology and innovation, do you feel safe?

So where's the humour? It's that one of the first and still one of the most enthusiastic BlackBerry clienteles is the legal profession. They love it. Couldn't live without their crackberries. They're as addicted to the lil' rascals as a teenager is to his Gameboy. They're facing life without their favourite drug — and it's all their own fault!

Whatever the outcome, expect a dose of reality to trickle through the legal system as even the most gung-ho lawyers remember their childhood stories about being nice to those farmyard birds which produce the most precious metal. IP reform that genuinely does protect innovation without encouraging armed conflict may be more welcome now that the downside has made itself quite so clear.

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