February 24, 2006

Judge begins hearing on BlackBerry’s fate

By Peter Kaplan and John Crawley

RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - A judge began hearing
arguments on Friday over whether to pull the plug on BlackBerry
e-mail devices used by millions of Americans as part of a fight
over patents for the pocket-sized technology.

Research In Motion Ltd., a Canadian company that makes the
BlackBerry, has been locked in a court battle for more than
four years with privately held NTP Inc., which successfully
sued RIM for infringing on its patents.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer opened the hearing
without giving any indication of whether he is inclined to
impose the injunction against U.S. BlackBerry service that he
stayed in 2003 pending RIM's appeals.

The two companies reached a tentative settlement of $450
million early last year, but the deal fell apart. Some analysts
have estimated that a settlement at this point could cost RIM
as much as $1 billion.

RIM has denied any patent infringement and contends that a
court order halting U.S. service would be premature. It has
said in court documents there is an "exceptional public
interest" in maintaining uninterrupted BlackBerry service,
especially for national security, health and safety workers.

The small portable e-mail devices are used by over 3
million U.S. subscribers including government officials and
lawmakers. The Bush administration has urged the judge to
exempt its employees from any shutdown.

Some users have complained about thumb injuries from their
almost addictive tapping of the tiny keyboards on their
so-called "CrackBerries" to send a steady stream of messages
during meetings and while traveling.

NTP has suggested giving U.S. BlackBerry users a 30-day
grace period if the judge decides to issue the injunction.

And RIM says it has developed and tested a technical
work-around to allow BlackBerry service to continue even if an
injunction is issued.

"The world, we suggest, will not come to an end" if an
injunction is issued, NTP attorney James Wallace told Spencer
on Friday.

Shares of RIM were up 1.74 percent to $70.74 in early
trading on Nasdaq.