Visto signs license for disputed NTP patents

Company competes with RIM in the market for wireless e-mail systems

Visto Corp., a challenger to Research In Motion Ltd. in the push e-mail market, has signed a license for the wireless e-mail patents held by NTP Inc., the companies announced Wednesday.

Visto competes with NTP's legal nemesis, Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM), in the market for wireless e-mail systems. RIM is currently locked in a closely watched courtroom struggle with NTP over whether RIM's BlackBerry system infringes on those same patents.

NTP has now obtained license agreements from Visto, Good Technology Inc. and Nokia Corp. for patents that describe a system of sending e-mail messages wirelessly to handheld devices, also known as push e-mail. RIM is facing an injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on the sale of BlackBerry devices in the U.S. after failing, through several avenues of appeal, to overturn a jury's verdict that the company infringed on NTP's patents.

Financial terms of the licensing deal were not disclosed.

Analysts believe RIM will settle its legal dispute with NTP rather than face an injunction, which could shut down the BlackBerry service in the U.S. Earlier this year, the companies announced a US$450 million settlement deal that eventually fell through. This time around, it could cost RIM twice that amount to keep the BlackBerry service going, according to analyst reports.

One reason RIM has been reluctant to settle has been the preliminary findings of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which has issued preliminary rulings invalidating NTP's patents. But the process of obtaining a final ruling could take several years to wind its way through the appeals process. Judge James Spencer of the Virginia court ruled two weeks ago that the patent case would proceed without waiting for the PTO's decision.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.