Patently Unjust?

While not (yet) a Windows Mobile issue, the ongoing saga of RIM's patent infringement battle with NTP may soon affect all mobile devices. RIM is the maker of the "Blackberry" wireless email devices and NTP is a "patent holding company".

Patent holding companies don't actually produce any products, but instead make money by buying patent rights and then getting real companies to pay them money to license various technology. The problem is that our patent system is severely broken. Patents are no longer issued only for actual inventions, but even for ways of doing business. The patent office is so overloaded that it seems to issue patents without thorough examinations. Instead, the patent office looks to the courts to sort out its messes. The problem with that is the years it can take for a court case to run its course. In the meantime, in parallel, the patent holder can sue supposedly infringing companies and the courts in those cases give the benefit of the doubt to the patent holder until another court or the patent office rules that the patent is not valid.

In the case against RIM, the court has ruled that they are infringing on NTP patents and have issued an injunction for RIM to stop selling the Blackberry in the USA. In the meantime, a few other events have happened: First, in March of this year, RIM and NTP reached a settlement where RIM would pay NTP $450,000,000 to license the technology. However, this deal "fell apart" and RIM is trying to get the courts to force NTP to accept it. The second thing that happened is far more interesting: The patent office recently completed their reviewed 8 of the NTP patents and invalidated 100% of them! Unfortunately for RIM, because the patent office rulings are not final, the courts are still enforcing the claims of NTP.

While NTP is currently trying to get the courts to enforce the injunction against RIM, it's obvious that they really don't want that to happen. It's not like RIM's sales are impacting sales of NTP's products. After all, NTP doesn’t make anything. The real goal of NTP is to get even more than the $450 million from RIM! All for licensing technology that, so far, appears to not even be patentable in the first place!

Also, if NTP is ultimately successful against RIM, they would use that success to go after HP, Microsoft and others involved with Windows Mobile devices that have similar keyboards to the Blackberry.

It is my hope that this case ultimately does end up in front of the US Supreme Court and that they use it as a case to address the mess we have in the current state of issuing and enforcing patents.

What do you think? I'd like to hear your comments on the subject.

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