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Suit puts the squeeze on BlackBerry

Manhattan software developer's patent suit aims to halt sales of the 7100 family based on RIM's SureType technology.

A New York software developer may be close to settling a patent dispute with Research In Motion over keyboard technology found in RIM's BlackBerry 7100 mobile-phone device.

Eatoni Ergonomics and RIM are expected to head into mediation in the next 30 days to avoid a trial, a source familiar with the case told CNET News.com.

The tangle involves software that helps speed text typing by using predictive technology on either a QWERTY-based or telephone keypad.

The two sides started trading legal barbs in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas after RIM filed an 89-page preemptive declaration in late April. RIM declared that it did not infringe on Eatoni's U.S. patent No.6,885,317, titled "Touch-typable devices based on ambiguous codes and methods to design such devices."

Eatoni filed its countersuit soon afterward, asking for an injunction of the BlackBerry 7100 series along with an unspecified damages. Wireless carrier T-Mobile, which distributes BlackBerry products, was also named as a defendant. Eatoni CEO Howard Gutowitz said he is prepared to extend the suit to other wireless carriers such as Cingular, which also distributes the 7100.

A representative of Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM called the Eatoni patent "invalid" and said RIM had not infringed on the patent in question. The trial date is set for late next year.

BlackBerry devices and messaging services allow wireless always-on access to e-mail and to corporate data.

Eatoni, which markets its technology as "LetterWise" because the company said it requires about half as many keystrokes as hitting a key multiple times to get the right letter, said RIM's "SureType" technology acts in an all-too-familiar way because it also "learns" as you type.

The Eatoni tussle is yet another thorn in RIM's BlackBerry patch. The company is also entangled in a longstanding legal dispute with Virginia-based patent holder NTP.

The two sides in that case are waiting for a ruling on the legality of a 2002 district court decision that found that RIM infringed NTP patents.