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BlackBerry Maker May Start Feeling Picked On

May 02, 2006|James S. Granelli | Times Staff Writer

Hang on to your BlackBerry because here we go again.

Barely two months after settling a patent infringement lawsuit that nearly shut down its U.S. service, the maker of the popular mobile e-mail device faces another court challenge.

Research in Motion Ltd. was sued late Friday by Visto Inc., which alleges that the BlackBerry violates Visto patents. The federal suit doesn't specify damages but seeks a court order that would effectively halt service.

"Oh, no, not again," sighed Scott Pansky, a public relations consultant and BlackBerry addict. "Just knowing there's another lawsuit against RIM is bad. I've got to believe they're going to settle this. They can't do this to their customers again."

Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Canada, narrowly averted a shutdown in early March by agreeing to pay $612.5 million to end a five-year patent fight with NTP Inc.

Unlike NTP, which owns patents but doesn't make anything, Visto is an established communications software company based in Redwood City, Calif., with 400 employees in 10 countries. Customers include Cingular Wireless and Nokia Corp.

Visto also has several patent suits pending. On Friday, Visto won a $3.6-million verdict against Seven Networks Inc.

"Now that we have that victory, we're more convinced of the validity of our patents," said Visto co-founder Daniel J. Mendez.

But the BlackBerry's maker conceded nothing, issuing a statement saying it "believes Visto's patents are invalid." In fact, the firm will consider "asserting its own patents against Visto."

If BlackBerry users weren't already feeling deja vu, consider this: NTP owns a stake in Visto, acquired as payment for technology licenses to help Visto avoid -- that's right -- a patent fight.

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