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RIM settles SureType patent infringement spat

Licenses predictive text tech from Eatoni

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Research In Motion (RIM) has reached an agreement with Eatoni Ergonomics, a little-known developer of predictive text input software for mobile devices, who claimed the Canadian company's BlackBerry incorporated technology it had no right to use.

Neither party would disclose the full terms of the deal, but they include RIM making an unspecified equity investment in Eatoni in return for a licence to use the smaller firm's intellectual property. They will also co-operate on next-gen text prediction technologies.

Eatoni took RIM to court back in 2005, claiming various BlackBerries with two-letter-per-key keyboards, such as the 7100 series and later devices like the Pearl, violate US Patent 6,885,317, which Eatoni had been granted in April of that year.

Patent 6,885,317 details "touch-typable devices based on ambiguous codes and methods to design such devices". 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.

The BlackBerry 7100, launched in 2004, introduced SureType, RIM's technology to allow users to press a single key and have the device work out whether they want, say, a Q or a W, to appear on the screen. That, Eatoni claimed, is exactly what patent 6,885,317 discussed when it applied for the patent in December 1999, long before RIM released the 7100.

RIM initially attempted to have Eatoni's patent declared invalid, but Eatoni countersued, alleging patent infringement and asking the court to ban the sale of RIM's allegedly infringing products. As usual, the US District Court of Northern Texas told the two companies to try mediation first, and in this case the negotiations proved successful.

Neither side has agreed to withdraw their allegations, instead choosing to settle the case "with prejudice", presumably in order to avoid further costly legal entanglements. ®

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