Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry e-mail pager, moved a step forward in challenging one of the patents at issue in a major infringement case against the company.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a "non-final action" rejecting all the claims supporting one of five key patents in the BlackBerry dispute, according to a document posted on the patent office's website.
The patents being challenged by Research in Motion are at the center of a long-running legal battle with patent holding company NTP Inc. that could force Research in Motion to settle the case or face a court-ordered shutdown of most U.S. BlackBerry sales and service.
In the document posted Wednesday on the patent office's website, an examiner said NTP's arguments in defense of one of the patents had been deemed "non-persuasive." The examiner stopped short of a final rejection pending review of a European report.
However, patent attorneys caution that at this stage the patent office findings are only the beginning of a long appeal process that probably will stretch out for months or even years.
The patents at issue cover wireless e-mail technology.
In 2003 a federal court ruled that Research in Motion had infringed the NTP patents. Subsequent appeals by Research in Motion have failed to stop the case, and a tentative settlement reached this year broke down after the two sides failed to agree on details. On Wednesday, the presiding judge in the case refused to delay the case or enforce the failed settlement. He is expected to hold a hearing soon on a possible injunction forcing Research in Motion to cease using NTP's technology.
U.S. District Judge James Spencer has refused to put the case on hold pending the patent office review.
Representatives for NTP and Research in Motion had no comment.
Waterloo, Canada-based Research in Motion has welcomed earlier U.S. patent office findings against NTP.