NTP Blasts RIM A Day Before Crucial Hearing

On Thursday, patent holding company NTP issued a press release blasting Research In Motion for repeatedly mischaracterizing the validity of a number of NTP-held patents and using its politic influence to persuade the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to reexamine patents that were already determined to be valid.

The patents are at the heart of NTP and RIM’s legal battle over the rights to the technology behind RIM’s popular BlackBerry handheld.

NTP sued RIM in 2002 for patent infringement, and a judge ruled in favor of NTP, granting a temporary injunction to shutdown RIM’s sales and service in the U.S.  The ruling was stayed during an appeals process, and during that time, the USPTO began a reexamination of the patents at issue.

Yesterday, the USPTO issued a final rejection of one of the five patents involved, a win for RIM, though the USPTO doesn’t have the final say in the matter. U.S. District Judge James Spencer doesn’t have to take the USPTO’s rejections into account and NTP has the right to appeal any ruling.  The federal court system, Court of Appeals included, will make the final decision should a ruling be appealed.

Non-final rejections have been issued for four of the five patents at issue.

A final hearing to decide whether or not RIM’s U.S. sales and service will be severed is set for Friday, Feb. 24.

“Since the federal court system has the final ‘say’ in the matter, RIM’s assertations that the patents have been invalidated are flatly wrong,” NTP’s release read.  “The validity of the patents is not affected by preliminary PTO actions.”

On top of the allegations of mischaracterization, NTP also accused RIM of using its political weight to gain an unfair—and unethical—advantage.

“RIM now seeks a second bite at the apple by using its lobbyists and political connections to exert political influence to have the PTO reexamine NTP’s patent,” the release read.

RIM was quick to deem the release a publicity stunt.

Mark Guibert, RIM’s vice president of corporate marketing told CNET News.com, “It won’t change the fact that the patents have been soundly rejected despite NTP’s attempts to obstruct the process.”

For background and analysis, check out BlackBerry on the Edge.

Tomorrow is the big day.  Don’t forget to check in at our CIO News Alerts page for updated news coverage.

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