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Company Says Legal Threat Will Not Stop BlackBerry E-mail Service

I’m Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Millions of people hold the world in their hand. Small wireless devices let them use e-mail, search the Internet and get the latest news. But lately the news has worried many users of the popular BlackBerry devices from the Canadian company Research in Motion. A small company in Virginia has asked a court to shut down most BlackBerry service in the United States.

Network Technology Partners does not make or sell products. N.T.P. is a patent holding company. And it says Research in Motion is using technology protected by patents held by N.T.P.

Research in Motion says BlackBerry was invented independently of the patents. And the United States Patent and Trademark Office has rejected all five in dispute, though its decision was not final.

But in two thousand two a federal jury in Virginia sided with Network Technology Partners. The jury ordered Research in Motion to pay N.T.P. millions of dollars. In two thousand three Research in Motion lost an appeal. A court gave an order that would stop the company from selling many of its products in the United States.

The case continues. Last month the United States Supreme Court refused to get involved. A judge called a hearing for February twenty-fourth on the possibility of suspending BlackBerry service.

Many government agencies that use the devices would not be included. And other users might not have to worry either.

On Thursday, Research in Motion announced it has developed and tested "software workaround designs" for all its BlackBerry handsets. It says these workarounds will permit service to continue should the court shut down the existing system.

Jim Balsillie, the chairman and co-chief executive officer, described the action as an attempt to balance N.T.P.'s threats. He says his company remains willing to enter into a settlement. He says N.T.P. risks losing all future payments if the workaround is put into effect.

Research in Motion said it will put the software on a Web site at a later date. The company in Waterloo, Ontario, says it has more than four million users worldwide.

The case has led a number of technology companies to call for new laws to limit lawsuits like this one. But supporters of current patent laws say these are the only way for small patent holders to enforce their rights.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. Read and listen to our reports at I'm Faith Lapidus.