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RIM infringed NTP patents, appeal court rules

But RIM can continue selling product anyway

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The US Court of Appeals has ruled that Lawsuits in Motion - aka Research in Motion - did indeed violate patents owned by intellectual property holding company NTP.

However, the court nevertheless overturned a District Court ban on violating products, pending the District Court's re-appraisal of its original verdict. That ruling allows RIM to continue selling Blackberry products until the case is finally decided.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals said: "The judgment and the injunction are vacated, and the case is remanded to the district court for further proceedings. We also conclude that the District Court correctly found infringement."

The injunction was granted against RIM by the US District Court of Eastern Richmond, Virginia in November 2002 after a jury decided that the Canadian company had infringed a number of patents covering the transmission of email over a radio network, all held by NTP. The injunction, which covers the US, was temporarily suspended in August 2003 when RIM appealed against the verdict. RIM's appeal went to court in June 2004.

RIM has always maintained that some of NTP's patents are invalid, and an investigation of its claims by the US Patents and Trademarks Office its currently underway. That probe is separate from the legal action. But with only five of 16 patents at the heart of NTP's allegations being re-evaluated, RIM is still left facing charges - acknowledged by the Court of Appeals - that it violated 11 of NTP's patents.

If the District Court finds that no errors of law prompted the previous verdict, it is likely to re-impose the injunction. RIM would not comment on this week's ruling, presumably while it weighs up its options. It may await the outcome of the future District Court ruling or, more likely, it may choose to seek a settlement. Either way, at least the Court of Appeals has allowed it to stay in business in its largest market in the meantime.

NTP first notified RIM of the alleged infringement in 2000. In November 2002 a court ruled against RIM, and ordered it to pay $23m. Straight away NTP claimed RIM had wilfully violated the patent. That led to a second award, of $53.7m, to be awarded in August 2003. ®

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