The BlackBerry service, based on the handheld e-mail device that has become a must-have tool for the business elite, could be shutdown in the United States after a bitter legal battle over a key patent.
This week, NTP, a small firm that holds a crucial patent that allows e-mails to be sent to mobile devices, announced a licence agreement with Visto Corp – an arch-rival of Research In Motion. (RIM), the company that created the BlackBerry.
The announcement could put further pressure on RIM to settle a patent claim from NTP which could be worth up to $1 billion (£565 million), or face having its service shut down altogether.
With neither side apparently prepared to concede any ground, the dispute seems set to continue. “It sounds like a little bit of Russian roulette,” Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond, told AP.
Visto has also took out a legal writ against Microsoft, accusing the company of infringing patents. Visto said it is seeking a permanent injunction to stop Microsoft from “misappropriating” technology developed nearly ten years ago by Visto and its co-founder.
To avoid similar litigation, RIM competitors including Nokia and Good Technology have drawn up licence agreements with NTP, which is based in Arlington, Virginia. In addition to signing its deal with Visto, NTP bought a stake in the company, which licences its mobile e-mail technology to Sprint Nextel and Vodafone, the British-based telecoms company.