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RIM, NTP Restart BlackBerry Negotiations

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. has resumed settlement talks with NTP Inc. through a mediator, bolstering hopes for a truce in a patent battle that has threatened the popular BlackBerry e-mail service.

RIM and NTP have been "communicating with each other through the court-appointed mediator during the last several days," RIM Vice President Mark Guibert said in a statement Thursday without elaborating.

"We are precluded by law from discussing the substance of that exchange. RIM expects to continue communications through that channel," Guibert said.

Word of the talks temporarily boosted RIM's stock price, which has slid sharply amid a series of court rulings that have strengthened NTP's hand.

But with investors fretting that a stalemate might lead the judge in the case to order BlackBerry service halted in the United States, the stock gave back all of the day's gains and turned lower, falling 85 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $60.75 Thursday in Nasdaq trading.

RIM's most recent legal defeats included the rejection of a request to enforce a preliminary $450 million settlement reached in March that subsequently unraveled.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer also rejected RIM's request that the case be put on hold until the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues a final ruling in its re-examination of the NTP patents at the heart of the case.

The patent office has issued preliminary rejections of all five NTP patents that a jury in 2002 decided RIM had infringed upon with the BlackBerry device and service.

NTP has downplayed those rulings as largely procedural, while RIM has called the rejections proof that the technology behind its popular BlackBerry handhelds and e-mail service is not stolen.

Final determinations on all the patents from the PTO may not come for months, and it's unclear how those rulings might impact the legal proceedings or any settlement that is reached beforehand.

Some industry and legal analysts say RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, will likely be forced to settle the lawsuit for as much as $1 billion.

Still, some also say RIM's hands aren't completely tied, arguing that it's unlikely NTP would want to force a shutdown, a scenario that could leave it with a far smaller payoff.

RIM also says it has a technological workaround that would keep its service running in the United States, where most of its 3.65 million BlackBerry customers are based. But analysts and investors are dubious about the viability of that option. RIM also is proceeding with an appeal to the Supreme Court.