RIM Wins Round in BlackBerry Battle

Research In Motion Ltd. appears to have drawn a small boost in the BlackBerry patent battle after several setbacks as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued another preliminary rejection against one of the patents RIM was found to have violated.

The latest "non-final" ruling in the re-examination of patents at the heart of the case sided with arguments that the wireless e-mail technology patented by NTP Inc. may have been created previously by a Norwegian company.

The ruling was published on Thursday, one day after a federal judge rejected RIM's bid to request to enforce a preliminary $450 million settlement with NTP that has unraveled.

In another blow to RIM on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer also turned down RIM's request to delay the case pending final word from the patent office.

The judge's two rulings may hasten a decision on whether to enforce an injunction that would shut down BlackBerry service in the United States, a threat many observers expect to force RIM into a higher-priced settlement.

RIM's stock, which slid nearly 6 percent after Wednesday's rulings, rebounded 6.4 percent in Thursday's Nasdaq trading, rising $3.89 to $65.02.

The patent office has issued preliminary rejections of all five NTP patents that RIM was found to have infringed by a jury in 2002.

NTP has downplayed those rulings as largely procedural, while RIM has asserted the rejections as 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 ruling might impact the legal proceedings or any settlement that is reached beforehand.

In a statement Wednesday, RIM said it has been preparing technology that would keep its service running in the United States, where most of its 3.65 million BlackBerry customers are based, and that it will proceed with its appeal to the Supreme Court.

But 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; it's also somewhat unlikely NTP would want to force a shutdown, a scenario that could leave it with a smaller payoff.