Breathe easier, corporate America, your BlackBerries are still good to go, at least for now.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said at hearing today in Richmond, Virginia, that he would rule on a shutdown probably after first assessing how much Research In Motion must pay the patent owner, NTP Inc., for infringement. He criticized the two companies for not settling the matter out of court.
The judge's decision to postpone a ruling gives Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion time to settle the almost five- year-old dispute before any shutdown, which would affect more than 2 million nongovernment users in the U.S., including Wall Street bankers, members of Congress and White House staff.
"Many people expected at least a partial injunction coming today,'' said Rob Sanderson, an analyst at American Technology Research. "I wouldn't call it a victory yet. There's obviously still a ruling coming. You're seeing a favorable reaction from the markets.''
Spencer criticized the companies' settlement efforts.
"I am surprised, absolutely surprised, that you have left this incredibly important decision to the court,'' the judge told company representatives at the hearing. "I have always felt it was a business decision.''
In the morning-long hearing, a Research In Motion lawyer said a "workaround'' the company developed to deal with a shutdown would take 2 million man-hours to implement.
"It's not something that can be done overnight,'' company lawyer Henry Bunsow told Spencer. Balsillie said that works out to 15 to 30 minutes per user. New BlackBerry units will have the workaround technology installed, he said.
"No matter what, the BlackBerry service will continue,'' Balsillie said.
Research In Motion has said its "workaround'' technology would maintain service without interruption. In court papers, it stressed the difficulty of introducing the changes and said the switch would drive off some customers.
In a parallel proceeding, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that one of the patents in dispute in the Virginia case should be canceled, Bunsow said today. The agency made similar findings on two other patents involved. Spencer said he won't wait for the patent-office process to be finished before ruling in his case. Appeals of patent agency rulings could take a year or more.
Research In Motion has asked that any new injunction be put on hold. The reason would be either to await a final decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on a review of the NTP patents, the results of a Supreme Court hearing on the general issue of injunctions in patent cases, or for Research In Motion to file yet another appeal.
Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry, the telephone and e-mail device carried by Wall Street bankers and Washington politicians, scored lower than Palm Inc.'s Treo in a survey of customer satisfaction.
Treo won a rating of 3.61 out of 5 for satisfaction, while BlackBerry had a 3.31, according to Brandimensions, a researcher that scoured almost 100 Internet forums, Web logs and discussion boards to assess the product's "buzz.'' The company is known for surveys of consumer reaction to products such as TiVo Inc.'s digital video recorder and the Academy Awards.
"BlackBerry seems to be lagging behind,'' said Mark De Paoli, the author of a report by Mississauga, Ontario-based Brandimensions. "When people are out there with their Treo, they're often in an office where nine out of 10 people have a BlackBerry, so they feel a sense of pride in it.''
Palm may have an edge on the Internet chatter because the company's products have been snapped up by consumer technology enthusiasts, while BlackBerrys evolved as a product issued to workers by corporate technology departments.
That may bode well for Motorola and Espoo, Finland-based Nokia, already well-known brands among consumers, De Paoli said.
"People online tend to be early adopters and like the newest things,'' he said. "The more consumer-oriented products may have a chance at winning more interest and making it even more competitive in this market.''