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Maker of BlackBerry Loses Court Decision

October 08, 2005|Terril Yue Jones | Times Staff Writer

This will get thumbs wagging: An appeals court on Friday declined to reconsider a patent ruling against the maker of BlackBerry e-mail devices, potentially barring the addictive gadgets from being sold in the United States.

A world without BlackBerrys? Don't worry. The 3 million or so units already in use would not be pried from the fidgety hands of their owners if Research in Motion Ltd. loses its legal fight against NTP Inc., which claims that the BlackBerry infringes 11 of its patents.

Just the thought, though, sent shivers through devotees of the palm-sized accessory that's a necessity among power players in Hollywood, Washington and Silicon Valley.

"My BlackBerry is part of me -- it is essentially an additional appendage, a third arm that allows me to always be in touch," Democratic political strategist Chris Lehane messaged from his "Berry."

Analysts said that Waterloo, Canada-based Research in Motion stood a good chance of overturning an injunction -- stayed during appeal -- against selling BlackBerrys. Key to that case would be a ruling by the U.S. patent office last month that rejected some of NTP's patents.

But, analysts noted, the company could lose and be forced to withdraw its signature product from its biggest market.

Research in Motion lawyers dismissed such a scenario.

"NTP's lawyers predictably trumpet their injunction threat and ignore the significance of the patent office rejections," Research in Motion attorney David Long said. "We do not believe the courts will be misled by NTP's bravado."

Virginia-based NTP said in a statement that the case would return to a lower court for reconfirmation of the injunction.

Users of the devices swear by their "CrackBerrys," so dubbed because of their addictive nature.

"I lived off my BlackBerry for a week," said David Rogers, a senior marketing manager for Intel Corp., the world's largest maker of computer chips. He arrived in France in February for a mobile phone conference only to find his laptop's hard drive had died. But he was able to use his BlackBerry to make calls, e-mail colleagues to draft news releases and swap messages with his wife in Texas about dress sizes for his three daughters.

Without a BlackBerry, "I'd crawl into my closet and shiver," said Rogers, whose BlackBerry has allowed him to attend his son's baseball games while he's on the job. "It would actually detract from my quality of life. I've never missed my son hitting or catching a ball because I was facedown in my laptop."

Likewise, "I depend on mine day and night," said Jay Sures, a television agent and partner at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, where virtually all of the 90-some agents have the devices. "When I wake up in the middle of the night, I take a peek at it to see if I have any messages. I'm attached to it like nothing else."

If BlackBerrys went away, consumers would just gravitate toward text messaging on cellphones or crowding around Wi-Fi hot spots, said Mike McGuire, a personal technology analyst with Gartner Inc. Devices such as the Treo smart phone from Palm Inc. and other wireless gadgets will fill any void left by BlackBerrys.

"Those Type A folks who always have to be one second away from their e-mail are going to find another way to do it," McGuire said.

Some might not mind fewer BlackBerrys: Lehane's wife, for instance, who has banned his device from meals and movies.

Reuters was used in compiling this report.

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