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Palm says NTP is suing on 'patents of doubtful validity'

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The company which sued the maker of the BlackBerry for patent infringement launched a similar case against handheld computer firm Palm yesterday. Palm said today that it will defend itself vigorously. Canada's Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry wireless email device, settled with US firm NTP in March, though it did not concede that it had infringed NTP's patents.

RIM said that it paid NTP $612.5m because it was losing business as customers backed off from the threat of a court-ordered suspension of RIM services. NTP now alleges that Palm is infringing its wireless email patents.

NTP is a patent holding company which exists to manage 50 patents. Seven patents are involved in the dispute with Palm, five of which were part of the case against RIM.

The current complaint alleges that Palm systems which integrate email into their services, such as the Treo, Palm VII, and Tungsten handhelds and smart phones, violate several of NTP's patents. Palm's new smartphones allow users to read and send emails and browse the internet.

"We have attempted – on numerous occasions – to resolve this issue with Palm without resorting to litigation that is both time-consuming and costly," said Donald Stout, co-founder of NTP, in a statement. "Despite our efforts, Palm has chosen to continue to unlawfully infringe on our patents. Though we would still prefer to resolve this issue with Palm in a negotiated license agreement that is fair and reasonable to both parties, we are filing action today as a last resort to protect our valuable intellectual property."

The suit was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Monday. It asks the court to stop Palm "continuing to infringe on NTP's patents". It asks for monetary damages for the alleged infringements of the past.

NTP claims to have first contacted Palm in 2000, when it wrote to the company's then-parent company 3Com. The company's complaint says that it wrote to the firm on two further occasions regarding the issue.

Palm hit back today. In a company statement, it noted that all seven of the patents asserted by NTP "are being re-examined by the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and have been rejected by the re-examiners as invalid." Palm also said that "the NTP patents disclose a pager-based email service that has nothing in common with the mobile-computing devices invented by Palm."

The company admitted being "in occasional contact with NTP concerning a license to these patents."

The company added: "When Palm last communicated with NTP many months ago, however, each of the patents already was the subject of re-examination proceedings by the PTO. Palm is disappointed that, after many months of silence and repeated rejections of NTP’s claims by the PTO, NTP has chosen to sue on patents of doubtful validity."

It concluded: "Palm respects legitimate intellectual property rights, but will defend itself vigorously against the attempted misuse of the patent and judicial systems to extract monetary value for rights to patents that may ultimately have no value at all."

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