Patent infringement cases common in tech world with RIM involved in two more

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MONTREAL - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) is involved in two more patent infringement disputes, but investors appeared to ignore the news as such legal battles become increasingly common on the technology front.
There are probably four or five different lawsuits against RIM at any time, but you don't always hear about them unless they grab headlines, Research Capital Corp. analyst Nick Agostino said Thursday.
"The market is saying, `OK, we know that this is par for the course,"' said Agostino, who follows the Waterloo, Ont.,-based tech giant.
"It's just part of doing business in the technology world," Agostino said from Toronto. "You're going to win some, you're going to lose some."
The U.S. International Trade Commission has announced it will investigate Kodak Co.'s patent infringement complaint over digital camera technology used both in BlackBerrys such as the touchscreen Storm and Apple's iPhone.
RIM has declined to comment on either that, or another patent-infringement case involving authentication systems filed by a Nebraska company.
Shares in Research In Motion closed up 78 cents at $74.34 or just more than one per cent Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange
Agostino said cases involving possible court injunctions or claims for "billions" or dollars would make stock markets take notice.
But in RIM's case, "even cutting a cheque for a couple of hundred million isn't a huge issue because they churn out enough cash in one quarter that it's not going to make a huge dent," he said.
The trade commission is also investigating a complaint by Nebraska's Prism Technologies against RIM involving authentication systems on BlackBerrys such as the Curve 8330.
The Washington-based commission can block imports into the United States of BlackBerry devices using the technologies in question.
Patent cases can take years and millions of dollars to resolve.
Lawyer Victor Krichker of Bereskin & Parr said trials can cost as much as $3 million and that getting through the process in a year would be considered a quick resolution.
"It can soak up a lot of company time and be very distracting to be involved in these kinds of lawsuits," he said.
RIM is one of the Toronto-based firm's clients and Krichker wasn't able to discuss specifics of the patent infringement cases.
"I suspect it might be a bit cheaper and faster to go to the International Trade Commission," said Krichker, a partner and head of the firm's high technology practice.
"It certainly seems to the method of choice in trying to enforce their patents," he said of companies choosing that route.
Krichker noted that patent infringement cases have almost become "a cottage industry" in the United States.
Some patent-owning companies, which he called "patent trolls," have no operating business and direct all of their energies to lawsuits in hopes of getting an award or settlement, he said.
In probably its most well-known patent battle, RIM ended up paying more than US$600 million for a patent portfolio controlled by NTP Inc., a Virginia firm set up to manage a portfolio of patents.
More recently, RIM agreed to pay US$267.5 million for unspecified patents from California-based Visto Corp.
RIM watcher Alastair Sweeny, author of "BlackBerry Planet," said big companies like RIM also have the option of acquiring companies that hit them with patent infringements or settling for a "perpetual" licence to use the technology.
"This seems to be the neatest way to solve this problem," Sweeny said from Ottawa. " It clears the air so nicely."
Sweeny has chronicled eight major patent cases on his "BlackBerry Planet" website involving RIM and companies such as Xerox, Motorola, Glenayre Electronics and NTP.
Other notable patent cases involve Canadian software company i4i versus Microsoft Corp. A U.S. court upheld US$290-million judgment that found Microsoft wilfully infringed upon i4i's patents. Microsoft has filed a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to re-hear the case.
Nokia Corp. is broadening a legal dispute it already has with Apple Inc. over the iPhone, saying almost all of the company's other products also violate the Finnish phone maker's patents.
Nokia has said that it has filed a complaint against Apple with the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging Apple's iPhone, iPods and computers all violate Nokia's intellectual property rights.

Organizations: Research In Motion, Apple Inc., U.S. International Trade Commission TSX Research Capital Kodak Co. Toronto Stock Exchange Microsoft Corp. Nokia Bereskin & Parr NTP Inc. Visto Corp. Xerox Motorola Glenayre Electronics U.S. Court of Appeals

Geographic location: BlackBerrys, United States, MONTREAL Nebraska Waterloo Toronto Virginia Ottawa

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