Balsillie: NTP abusing U.S. Patent System

Research In Motion took its high-stakes battle to protect its BlackBerry business to a new venue yesterday, with its chairman arguing through the media that adversary NTP Inc. has been abusing the U.S. patent system. RIM chairman and co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an opinion article published in The Wall Street Journal that NTP “has been aggressively working to exploit the burdens of the U.S. patent system.”

He said that the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has now “soundly rejected” all of NTP’s claims to the patents that are at the centre of a legal dispute that threatens to block BlackBerry sales in the United States.

Mr. Balsillie said the dispute boils down to “a willingness to abuse an overburdened patent system for personal gain.”
The Washington law firm handling the NTP case, Wiley Rein & Fielding, said yesterday it had no comment about Mr. Balsillie’s article. Law professor Shubha Ghosh said yesterday he doesn’t agree with Mr. Balsillie’s assertion that the U.S. patent system is broken, but added there is room for improving the way patent infringements are remedied.

“I think the patent system, for the most part, works fairly well,” said Prof. Ghosh, a patent law expert who teaches at the University of Buffalo.

But he agreed that the U.S. patent system is designed to protect the rights of patent holders, without necessarily looking at the broader impact.

“We have a patent system that is very solicitous, very protective of patent holders,” Prof. Ghosh said. “If you want to look at the underlying advantage [that NTP has], it’s that advantage.”

NTP is asking a U.S. federal district court judge in Virginia to issue a court injunction that would block the BlackBerry in the United States — a move that may disrupt BlackBerry e-mail service, unless the two sides can reach a settlement. But Prof. Ghosh said that, in other areas of the law, courts might look at other remedies to compensate NTP for the alleged patent infringement.

“Injunctions are just one option,” Prof. Ghosh said. “Another very common option is to award some sort of damages. But damages, again, need to be proportionate to the harm and also needs to be proportionate to the broader goals of the patent system, which is to foster markets and foster competition of some sort.”

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