by Al Sacco

UPDATED — BlackBerry-Maker RIM, Motorola Exchange Patent Lawsuits

Feb 19, 20084 mins
Consumer ElectronicsGovernmentMobile

Handset heavies Research In Motion (RIM) and Motorola have both filed patent infringement suits against each other regarding wireless technologies used in their wares.

Since this story was originally posted, it has been updated to include a comment from Gartner’s mobile/wireless analyst Ken Dulaney.

Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the popular BlackBerry wireless handheld, and struggling cell phone producer Motorola have filed patent infringement lawsuits against each other over technologies used within their wireless devices, according to Reuters.

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RIM late last week accused Motorola, in a suit filed in Dallas’ U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, of infringing on a handful of its patents and of charging excessive patent licensing fees to competitors, while refusing to recognize or pay royalties on RIM patents. RIM says Motorola is charging “exorbitant” licensing fees because it cannot keep up with the innovation in the mobile handset space.

One patent at issue covers the use of technology that enables mobile phone users to access Wi-Fi networks. Popular RIM products that use technologies covered by the patents mentioned in the filings include its 8100 Pearl, 8300 Curve and 8800 series devices, as well as its BlackBerry Exchange Server software, which enterprises use to securely connect BlackBerry users to their mail and other corporate systems, Reuters says.

Motorola is currently denying the charges, and has filed its own lawsuits in another Texas district and in Delaware over patents it’s accusing Motorola of infringing upon, according to a Wall Street Journal blog.

The recent legal action on both sides appears to be a result of the two companies’ failure to reach an extension of a 2003 cross-licensing agreement that expired at the end of 2007. This comes at time when RIM is attempting to gain more non-business users by offering devices with consumer-centric features–like its Pearl and Curve smartphones–and Motorola wants to steal away more business smartphone users from RIM and its competitors by offering devices like its Motorola Q lineup.

image of a gavel atop a law book
RIM, Motorola Head to Court Over Patents

The recent suits could end up taking years to resolve–like the legal spat between patent holding firm NTP and RIM that was settled in March 2006 after years of delays–and could be detrimental to both companies throughout the legislative process, analysts say.

Ken Dulaney, a Gartner analyst, says the dispute will either end very quickly with a settlement or it will drag on for years.

“Typically, these things go on for a long time, cost a lot of money and really not much comes of them,” Dulaney says. “I won’t be telling anyone not to buy anything from either of these companies.”

Patent attorney Gene Quinn writes on the Practicing Law Institute blog that Motorola has every right to charge as much as it wants for licensing of its technologies, and that RIM may just be angry that Motorola wants to charge more than it has in the past for technology that the BlackBerry maker needs.

Motorola announced in late January that it is considering spinning off its mobile phone business, its weakest segment.

A recent ranking of worldwide smartphone vendors by sales from market research firm Canalys found Motorola fourth on the list for the last quarter of 2007, behind Nokia, RIM and Apple, which has been a player in the space for less than a year and only offers one handset–the iPhone.

Research In Motion, which recently suffered its second major service outage in the last year–the first of which occurred last April–prompting criticism from users and analysts alike, has roughly 12 million subscribers.