US Patent Office rules Against Third NTP Patent

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The U.S. patent office has ruled against another NTP Inc. patent at the center of NTP’s legal battle with Research In Motion Ltd., a case that threatens to shut down RIM’s BlackBerry e-mail service in the United States. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a “non-final action” rejecting the claims supporting the third of five NTP patents involved in the dispute with RIM, according to a document dated December 15 and posted on the patent office’s Web site.

The government agency issued its first “non-final action” against an NTP patent less than a month ago. Its similar rejection of a second NTP patent involved in the case came to light on Thursday.

Closely held NTP, a patent holding company, successfully sued RIM for patent infringement in 2002. It later won an injunction, stayed pending appeal, to halt sales of RIM’s BlackBerry wireless e-mail device and service in the United States.

With the appeal process largely exhausted, RIM has moved closer to a possible shutdown in the United States.

While the case worked its way through the court system, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began re-examining the validity of NTP patents.

By September, it had issued “first office actions” rejecting the claims in all five patents.

Some analysts have warned investors against becoming too euphoric about the rulings, noting the process is not yet concluded.

A lawyer for NTP has said the firm planned see the full re-examination process through, which could take years, because it has the ability to appeal the decisions through the courts.

In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge James Spencer on November 30 denied RIM’s request to stay proceedings pending the completion of the review. This means he could issue an injunction shutting down the BlackBerry service before the review is completed.

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