After a delay of almost two full years, Nokia Corp. plans to sell a smart phone running Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry software.The delay highlights a number of key issues that bring into question the efficacy of RIM’s BlackBerry licensing program. Nokia said it will sell its 9300 smart phone this fall in the United States. The device will ship with RIM’s BlackBerry software, allowing users to access their corporate e-mail through BlackBerry servers.
Nokia originally planned to sell its 6800 messaging device with BlackBerry software in 2003. However, the company scrapped those plans, explaining that RIM’s court battle with patent-holding company NTP Inc. raised troubling legal concerns. NTP alleges RIM’s BlackBerry products infringe on its patents for wireless e-mail. Such infringement concerns could spill over to companies like Nokia that license RIM’s technology.
Nokia does sell several BlackBerry-capable devices outside the United States, where NTP’s patents don’t apply.
Nokia last year inked a licensing agreement with NTP in order to protect itself against the company’s patents. Tim Eckersley, head of Nokia’s market operations in the Americas, said the licensing agreement helped pave the way for the release of the 9300 later this year.
However, Eckersley said BlackBerry is only one of several e-mail services the 9300 would support. He said the device also would support software from Good Technology Inc., Visto Inc. and others.
“We think there are many options to the BlackBerry service,” he said. “It’s still very early in the marketplace.”
RIM unveiled its licensing program almost three years ago. The program allows device makers like Nokia to install BlackBerry software into their own devices. Among those signed up for the program are Motorola Inc., Siemens AG, High Tech Computer Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications L.P.
However, today there are no BlackBerry-capable devices in the United States; Nokia’s 9300 likely will be the first. Motorola said its Q smart phone will include BlackBerry capabilities when it ships early next year.
There are only a handful of BlackBerry-capable devices available outside of the United States, mainly from the likes of Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Siemens.
It’s unclear what has stymied the sale of BlackBerry-capable devices. RIM’s continuing legal battle with NTP could play a major role, although RIM executives have dismissed such concerns. Competitive issues also may be at play. As RIM gains more and more success with its BlackBerry devices, companies like Nokia and Motorola may see RIM encroaching on their turf. Other issues affecting the rollout of BlackBerry-capable devices in the United States may involve technical issues-the devices must connect to carrier’s data services, which can present engineering challenges.
RIM executives were not immediately available to comment on the company’s BlackBerry licensing strategy.