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Eatoni sues RIM over SureType

Text-entry specialist claims patent infringement

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Predictive-text technology developer Eatoni Ergonomics has asked the US District Court of Northern Texas to ban Research in Motion (RIM) from selling its Blackberry 7100 smart-phone family, claiming the devices violate the small company's intellectual property rights.

The legal battle has been brewing since April when Eatoni was granted patent number 6,885,317, but kicked off in earnest this week following a skirmish between the two companies over where the lawsuit will be heard. New York-based Eatoni wanted the case heard locally; RIM favoured Texas; RIM prevailed.

Eatoni claims patent 6,885,317 - "touch-typable devices based on ambiguous codes and methods to design such devices" - covers text entry on small form-factor keypads that intelligently emulate a QWERTY keyboards. Mobile-phone owners who use the T9 system will be familiar with the idea, but Eatoni's dictionary-less, language-agnostic approach is significantly better. We know, we've tried it. So have plenty of cordless phone users - Eatoni's technology has been licensed to quite a few DECT-handset makers. You can try it yourself, here.

RIM's 7100 devices, codenamed 'Charm', launched a year ago and introduced a new predictive text-entry system, dubbed SureType, which allowed the company to squeeze a QWERTY keyboard onto the devices, which are much narrower than its trademark full QWERTY units.

That, claims Eatoni, falls slap bang within in the remit of its patent. When The Register spoke to Eatoni CEO Howard Gutowitz in July, he said the firm has alerted RIM to the alleged infringement and approached the push email giant with a view to licensing its technology. RIM, it appears, ultimately rejected its overtures.

RIM's response has been to claim Eatoni's patent is invalid for a number of reasons, including lack of novelty, Eatoni said.

A RIM spokesperson told The Register the company did not comment on pending litigation.

RIM - aka Lawsuits in Motion - remains locked in a legal battle with US patent holding company NTP over the latter's mobile email intellectual property. Last month, the US Court of Appeal struck off a number of claims made by NTP against RIM, but reaffirmed lower court decisions based on other claims. From the original 16 claims made by NTP against RIM only seven now remain, while a recent US Patents and Trademark Office revocation of a number of NTP's patents is likely to reduce that to five. ®

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