Reporting from San Francisco — A company that won a massive settlement in litigation over the BlackBerry wireless e-mail system four years ago is going after the latest entrants in the smart-phone market.
NTP Inc., a patent holding company based in Richmond, Va., said Friday that it had filed lawsuits against Apple Inc., Google Inc., Motorola Inc., Microsoft Corp., LG Electronics and Taiwanese cellphone maker HTC Corp. over eight patents related to wireless e-mail.
The company is best known for winning in 2006 a $612-million settlement with Research in Motion Ltd. for similar claims. That case had nearly resulted in a court injunction that could have shut down RIM's popular BlackBerry service.
"Use of NTP's intellectual property without a license is just plain unfair to NTP and its licensees," NTP co-founder Donald Stout said in a statement. "We took the necessary action to protect our intellectual property."
The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In addition to RIM, NTP has previously sued wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile over the same issue. Those cases are still pending.
NTP was founded in 1992 on patents held by Chicago inventor Tom Campana, who developed wireless e-mail technology in the 1980s that was never broadly commercialized. It has since sought license payments from companies that provide this type of service, which NTP contends is covered by its portfolio.
"That's our belief. These patents cover some of the most basic technology on which wireless e-mail is based," said Ron Epstein, a lawyer for NTP.
Analysts say NTP may have a better position than other small patent litigants, but it is going up against deep-pocketed companies that are unlikely to agree to any payouts before battling the allegations.
"NTP is going to have to prevail against some very large, well-funded legal departments," said Ed Snyder, a wireless industry analyst with Charter Equity Research. "Companies like Apple and Google are not going to roll over and just pay off some nuisance suit."
Gallagher writes for MarketWatch.com/McClatchy.