NTP, the patent house that extracted $612.5m from Research in Motion with a lawsuit that threatened to shut-down RIM’s BlackBerry service in the US, is now suing the biggest wireless carriers in the country.
AT&T, Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless have been hit with lawsuits similar to the one NTP filed against RIM. The suits allege the carriers infringe on eight NTP patents relating to wireless email or electronic mail systems with RF communications to mobile processors and related methods of operation. It also called out email services specifically offered via the Motorola Q and Palm Treo.
NTP contends the carriers infringe on eight of its patents, five of which were the subject of its earlier suit against RIM.
The carriers declined to comment on the litigation. Sprint Nextel said it was still reviewing the compliant.
NTP’s suits targets all of the carriers’ products and services, including handheld devices, organizers, PDAs, cell phones and smartphones, together with related software applications and wireless data services, that are capable of sending and receiving email messages.
NTP also claims, in its lawsuits, that it tried to get the carriers to license its technology but without success.
The validity of NTP’s contested patents are currently being reviewed by the US Patent and Trademark Office. RIM had asked the patent office to review them during its own legal battles with NTP. Palm also is being sued by NTP, but the case has been stayed while the patents are under review.
Richmond, Virginia-based NTP makes its money by licensing its mobile-email intellectual property to wireless technology vendors, including Motorola-owned Good Technology, Nokia and Visto.
RIM’s settlement with NTP in March 2006 was a one-off payment for a perpetual NTP license, covering all its patents. At the time, RIM chief Jim Balsillie struggled to hide his bitterness over the costly settlement. He said the US would undoubtedly overhaul its patent laws, but that RIM had been caught in an ambiguous time before then. The court handling the RIM case made it clear that it would not delay its proceedings to wait for the patent office’s final ruling on the validity of NTP’s patents.
A sweeping patent-reform bill was approved by the US House of Representatives on September 7 and is now making its way through the Senate. The bill attempts to dismiss inventions that are obvious and not worthy of a patent. But it is expected to face stiff opposition by tech-industry lobbyists that demand it be rewritten to include language that would limit damages in infringement lawsuits.
Seems the company was buoyed by success with the RIM lawsuit. Based on the scope of the defendants’ market reach in its latest suits, NTP is now going after a piece of almost every smartphone in the US.
The carriers’ defense strategy will likely be similar to that of RIM’s: Try to drag the case out for as long as possible while waiting for the patent office to rule on the validity of NTP’s patents. If they are unsuccessful, it will be a tremendous payday for NTP, which is fast becoming the country’s most famous patent troll – that is, a company that does not make or sell any products but files aggressive patent lawsuits against those that do.