Guess who's back--again?


Guess who's back--again?

NTP is back. The patent holding firm that successfully squeezed Research In Motion for more than $612.5 million in the spring of 2006, is now suing the big four mobile carriers in the U.S. as well as Palm. NTP brought each of the lawsuits to the same court in Virginia, which originally handled the RIM case. 

When NTP sued Palm late last year, the court stayed the case until the USPTO finished its review of the patents. So far, the USPTO has rejected all of NTP's patents that relate to the case, but it is now reviewing an appeal from the company. It is likely, therefore, that the court will stay this most recent suit that NTP has brought against the four big carriers in the U.S.: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA. If the court does decide to stay the case, then this suit will only be a temporary nuisance for the carriers, because the USPTO is likely to (once again) throw out the NTP patent claims.

Unfortunately, RIM was not so lucky. The case NTP brought against it dragged on for nearly half a decade and culminated with a widely reported threat that the court would shut down BlackBerry services across the U.S. The reports panicked RIM shareholders as well as the many enterprises that relied on the popular email device, and RIM ended up settling with NTP for hundreds of millions--just months before the USPTO threw out the last of NTP's patent claims. RIM CEO Jim Balsille said he offered to pay more than the $612.5 million if NTP agreed to a contingency clause that the USPTO had to uphold NTP's patents. NTP wasn't interested in the extra money for the clause, indicating they knew the patents would not hold up.

So, unless NTP finds a way to drag this new set of lawsuits out for a number of years and convinces Wall Street that it will shut down the wireless carriers' email services, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile have nothing to worry about. And take some advice from RIM: If by some unlikely set of circumstances you have to settle, make sure you get that contingency clause. -Brian

P.S. For more information on NTP, read our Special Report.