by Ben Worthen

Patent Reform Too Late For BlackBerry Users

Mar 15, 20062 mins

A Texas congressman plans to reignite his effort to reform how intellectual property disputes are conducted, such as the one being duked out by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) and NTP. If the bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is enacted, it could protect end users from losing the right to use disputed technologies while a patent infringement case is being adjudicated.

Smith is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. His bill constitutes the biggest overhaul of the patent system in more than 50 years.

An early version of the bill proposed eliminating injunctions in patent infringement cases, such as the injunction NTP requested against RIM, which, if granted, would halt BlackBerry service in the United States. The threat of an injunction is typically enough of an incentive to convince an alleged infringer to settle with the company that claims it has been damaged. But RIM has refused to do so.

However, large pharmaceutical companies rely on injunctions to stop competitors from copying drugs still under patent protection. The pharmaceutical lobby helped derail Smith’s bill last summer. Recently, however, Smith held meetings with representatives from both the technology and pharmaceutical industries in an attempt to find common ground. Both groups, for example, are open to changing the current system, which awards patent rights to whoever can prove he invented something, to a system that grants the patent to the first person to register an invention.

Ronald Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance, is against the bill. He says that if Congress eliminates injunctions—often the only legal recourse that small companies and independent inventors have in a patent dispute—then large technology companies will have what amounts to grabbing rights over emerging technologies. He says his group is prepared for a “bloody” fight.

Smith says he is optimistic that he can pass the legislation this year. But patent reform will come too late to help RIM—or BlackBerry users—in the suit with NTP. At press time a judge was considering final arguments for and against NTP’s injunction request.