US government against Blackberry network closure

The US Department of Justice has urged a federal judge not to close down the US Blackberry portable e-mail service as a result of an ongoing patent dispute, until it can be demonstrated that the service will remain available to government users.

The US Department of Justice has urged a federal judge not to close down the US Blackberry portable e-mail service as a result of an ongoing patent dispute, until it can be demonstrated that the service will remain available to government users.

“There are still a number of serious questions to be answered as to how an injunction can be implemented so as to continue the Blackberry service for governmental and other excepted groups,” the Justice Department said in its filing to the federal court dealing with the case.

Blackberry maker RIM is fighting a long-running patent battle against US patent holding company NTP, which has already won a ruling from a jury that its patents were infringed by the Blackberry service.

Unless an acceptable damages settlement can be found, NTP has requested that the US Blackberry service is turned off, but it has previously said it would like the service for governmental and emergency workers to continue.

If the US network is closed, international Blackberry users would not be able to use their devices when visiting the US.

RIM still disputes the validity of the patents though and is pursuing the matter through the US Patent and Trademark Office, which has just delivered a preliminary rejection of a fifth and final patent held by NTP.

This non-final judgement by the patent office and the Justice Department filing were shots in the arm for RIM, which claims a Blackberry network shutdown would not be in the public interest.

But with NTP determined to exhaust the patent appeals process, which could take years, the judge in the case may feel he has to carry through his threat to close the Blackberry network if an acceptable settlement is not found.

The two sides will meet in court again on 24 February, where a closure decision may still be taken, despite the government lobbying.

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