Update: NTP files patent infringement suit against Palm

Central player in the BlackBerry saga heads to court again

NTP Inc. has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Palm Inc., echoing the allegations the patent-holding firm made against Research in Motion Ltd. that nearly shut down RIM's BlackBerry service.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the District Court for the Eastern Region of Virginia, alleges that Palm is using NTP technology in its mobile wireless e-mail devices and asks the judge to stop Palm from selling and operating such products, and to fine the company for punitive damages.

"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 Richmond, Va.-based NTP. "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 company has licensed its wireless e-mail technology to device makers such as Good Technology Inc., Nokia Corp. and Visto Corp.

Palm's Treo 600 and 700 series smart phones combine phone service, e-mail and Internet access in a single handheld device. Treo sales are a primary reason for Palm's success, generating more than half the company's annual revenue.

Palm responded that it has been in occasional contact with NTP to discuss licensing the patents. It last communicated with NTP "many months ago," around the time that each of the relevant patents was being re-examined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent office has found the patents invalid but is still in the midst of a potentially lengthy re-examination process.

"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," the company said in a statement.

Palm said the NTP patents cover an e-mail system that uses pager technology, a method that Palm said has nothing in common with its own technology.

In March, RIM agreed to pay $612.5 million to settle NTP's patent claims and gain the right to continue its smart phone business. The threat of an injunction had pulled many bystanders into the case, even pushing the federal government to argue before the judge that shutting down BlackBerry service would stop many federal employees from doing their jobs.

Computerworld's Matt Hamblen contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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