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Palm, RIM ink licensing deal

Deal will allow owners of Palm's Treo 650 to connect with RIM's BlackBerry e-mail and calendar software.

Handheld computer makers Palm and Research In Motion inked a deal on Monday to let Treo 650 owners to connect with BlackBerry e-mail and calendar software.

The option will be available for new and existing Treo 650 users as well as future Treo products with the Palm operating system starting in early 2006. Carriers, pricing and distribution deals will be announced at a later date, the companies said.

The deal means that the BlackBerry Connect software will show up as an option on Palm's VersaMail e-mail client. Palm also has several software contracts including Microsoft Exchange, IBM's Lotus and Domino, Good Technology's GoodLink software, Intellisync, Seven, and Visto in Europe.

"The long-term goal is to get e-mail available on every Treo with every server," said Joe Fabris, director Palm wireless marketing.

An e-mail synchronization partnership with RIM on the Treo smart phone has been in the works ever since the development of the Treo 600 when it was still belonged to Handspring, Fabris said.

"I was working at Handspring for less than a year before coming over to Palm and we were talking with RIM in those days about supporting different e-mail clients," Fabris said. "We had our own e-mail client and trying to get other contracts. RIM was just starting to roll out their BlackBerry Connect program, but unfortunately it coincided with the release of the Treo 600 and we were very focused on getting the Treo 600 out the door."

After that, Fabris said negotiations with Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM were put on the back burner as Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Palm then acquired Handspring and developed the Treo 650.

Talks then resumed as Palm decided to spin off the operating system division into PalmSource and engineers were faced with either partnering with RIM or creating their own compatible version of the BlackBerry Connect software.

The partnership with RIM is unique in that it it's Palm's first chance to give Treo customers automatic synchronization with calendaring.

Palm has not yet decided to include BlackBerry connect on Microsoft Windows-based Palm devices, Fabris said, such as the one announced by Palm, Microsoft and Verizon in September 2005. But he did note that it wouldn't be that difficult since RIM is working on a Windows Mobile client.

The Palm and RIM partnership is a boost to both companies who have different motivations for expanding their user and subscriber base respectively.

RIM is currently appealing a 2002 judgment that found the company's popular wireless e-mail device infringed on 11 patents held by Virginia-based patent holding company NTP Ltd.

RIM has been able to sell its devices in the United States while the lower district court reviewed the case. RIM has been able to spread its BlackBerry Connect software around the globe because individual carriers or handset manufacturers have licensed NTP's software that covers some aspects of wireless e-mail delivery.

"We know about the lawsuit and it was built into the negotiations with RIM," Fabris said. "That said, it does not prohibit certain carriers from providing the software service."

For Palm, it's a matter of getting more people to purchase their smart phones.

While Palm had a distinct advantage early on it its career, RIM currently ships more hardware devices overall than Palm, according to Gartner. RIM's shipments for the second quarter grew to 840,000 devices, a 64.7 percent increase over the same period last year. RIM's market share of 23.2 percent continues to lead the pack, with Palm close behind at 17.8 percent.