Supreme Court Refuses Review in BlackBerry Patent Dispute
By IAN AUSTEN
OTTAWA, Jan. 23 - The United States Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry e-mail devices, to review its patent dispute with the holding company NTP.
The court's decision means that the case is now back in the hands of Judge James R. Spencer of Federal District Court in Richmond, Va. He is considering a request from NTP to impose an injunction banning the sale and use of most BlackBerry hand-held devices in the United States.
An injunction could come as soon as next month. It is possible that the two companies could reach an out-of-court settlement before then, which they have tried but failed to do in the past. R.I.M. is also trying to overturn NTP's patent claims through a separate United States patent office review.
R.I.M. has acknowledged that the Supreme Court rarely hears patent cases. The company had hoped, however, that the justices would explore its argument that the wireless e-mail patents held by NTP, an intellectual property holding company based in Arlington, Va., did not extend beyond the borders of the United States.
In its court submissions, R.I.M. said that the software at the heart of the dispute exists only on servers near its headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. Because NTP does not hold any patents in Canada, R.I.M. argued that the company had no valid claim on the BlackBerry.
"We're happy that the Supreme Court rejected R.I.M.'s efforts to create a huge loophole in the patent law," Kevin Anderson, a lawyer for NTP, said.
In an e-mail message, Mark Guibert, R.I.M.'s vice president for corporate marketing, said that the company still believed that it had several options to block the injunction as well as the imposition of the terms of NTP's court victory in 2002. In that ruling, the federal court issued an injunction banning BlackBerry sales in the United States, but stayed the injunction pending the outcome of the appeal. It also ordered R.I.M. to pay NTP millions in royalties. There are now no further avenues for R.I.M. to appeal that ruling.
"The patent office continues its re-examinations with special dispatch," Mr. Guibert wrote., "R.I.M.'s legal arguments for the district court remain strong and our software workaround designs remain a solid contingency." While it has not offered full details, R.I.M. has said that it has prepared a workaround - an alternative BlackBerry system - that it believes does not violate NTP's patents.
NTP has asked Judge Spencer to impose an injunction he granted in 2002 but suspended to permit R.I.M.'s appeals. The court is expected to announce a hearing date for NTP's case as early as this week.
At R.I.M.'s request, the United States Patent and Trademark Office is reviewing NTP's claims. It has said that it expects to issue a final ruling rejecting all of them. NTP will still have two avenues of appeal for that decision. It is not clear, though, how Judge Spencer would respond to any action by the patent office.