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Nokia licenses patents from RIM rival

Patents at the heart of infringement case against the BlackBerry maker.

Cell phone giant Nokia has agreed to license patents from holding company NTP, despite Research In Motion's recent challenge to their validity in an appellate court.

NTP late Monday announced the licensing agreement for the patents, which are being considered in an infringement case with Nokia partner RIM. Details were not disclosed, and attorneys representing the holding company declined to comment on the deal.

RIM is questioning the validity of NTP's patents, after a judge and jury found that the Waterloo, Ontario-based company had infringed on the patents. A judge ordered an injunction banning U.S. sales of RIM's devices and service but stayed the order, pending an appeal.

Nokia entered into a licensing agreement with RIM in late 2002 to make RIM's BlackBerry messaging service available on the leading cell phone maker's devices. The deal would have opened RIM up to a significant group of customers, but Nokia has not made the service available yet. Keith Nowak, a Nokia spokesman, said the overhanging patent infringement case against RIM caused the cell phone company to hold back from making the service available on its devices in the United States.

However, due to the NTP agreement, Nokia will be shipping 6820 devices with the service to carriers. The cell phone company expects those devices to be available in two to three months in the United States. Devices with the service have already been available outside the United States.

"There has been a lot of interest in the product, and this agreement allows us to get our products into people's hands," Nowak said.

He added that his company decided not to wait any longer, because it didn't know how long the case between NTP and RIM would last.

IDC analyst Kevin Burden said the move frees up Nokia to "move ahead on its own timetable."

Mark Guibert, RIM vice president of corporate marketing, said the agreement is good news for RIM, because it means that Nokia will be launching its BlackBerry service.

"Otherwise, this has no impact on the merit's of RIM's appeal before the court or the re-examination process under way at the patent office," Guibert wrote in an e-mail.

Oral arguments in the NTP v. RIM case were heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on June 7. A decision is not expected for several weeks.