RIM: BlackBerry Out-of-Court Settlement Not an Option

The judge considering whether to shut down BlackBerry service in the United States made it clear during a Feb. 24 court hearing that he doesn't think this case belongs in court anymore, and he wishes the two sides would just settle.

But even after being scolded in court, executives at BlackBerry maker Research In Motion say that settlement is not an option, claiming that plaintiff NTP has yet to propose a reasonable resolution.

"Settlement has never been an option to date," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM on Feb. 24.

He spoke to eWEEK shortly after a court hearing here during which a federal judge considered arguments in a long-running patent-dispute case between RIM and patent-holding company NTP.

"The issue is that they've been disingenuous with the court and with the public," Balsillie said.

Both RIM and NTP have declined to give the terms of any deals that NTP has proposed, but Balsillie said that his legal team has characterized them as "non-licensed licenses."

"They've never offered us a full license, so I'm kind of hamstrung," Balsillie said. "It's like: 'Jim, would you be happy being 6 feet, 6 inches tall?' It'd be nice, but it's not an option in this lifetime."

NTP is the patent-holding firm that sued RIM for patent infringement in 2001.

Judge James Spencer ruled in favor of NTP in 2003, instructing RIM to halt its sales of BlackBerry devices and services in the United States until NTP's patents run out in 2012.

Spencer stayed the ruling, however, pending appeal. Since then, the case has gone through several appeals and failed settlement attempts.

He held the Feb. 24 hearing to reconsider an injunction and an updated financial settlement for NTP, but has yet to make a final decision.

"I must say I'm surprised that you have left this important and incredibly significant decision to the court," Spencer said in a hearing on the injunction here Feb. 24. "A court-imposed decision will be imperfect. The case should've been settled, but it hasn't been. So I have to deal with reality."

Spencer declined to say when he will make a decision.

NTP maintains that it has offered nothing but fair deals to RIM, using royalty rates based on a jury decision in 2003.

"Basically what you have here is a squatter," said James Wallace, an attorney with Wiley Rein and Fielding LLP, during a court hearing here on Feb. 24. "RIM is guilty of willful infringement and continues to infringe, day after day. ... We'd be willing to drop the injunction if they'd just pay up."

NTP issued a public statement shortly after the hearing was over.

"We want all BlackBerry users to know that we have repeatedly attempted to settle this issue with RIM, including trying to meet with them this week," the statement said. "RIM has rejected our efforts, stalled the proceedings and attempted to undermine the process every step of the way. We have acted to protect our interests and will do so in the future as should all patent owners."

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