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RIM's work-around revealed

Research In Motion details how its new software work-around will be distributed to customers.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion on Thursday announced details of how its new software work-around, designed as a backup if U.S. courts impose an injunction later this month, will be released to customers.

The specifics of the work-around come days before a scheduled Feb. 24 hearing on a possible injunction that would shut down most U.S. sales and service of the mobile e-mail device.

RIM lost the patent infringement suit that U.S. patent-holding firm NTP filed against it in 2003. The court granted NTP an injunction, but it was stayed pending RIM's appeals.

Now time is running out for Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM. And even though the company says it believes it has strong arguments against an injunction, it has developed the work-around as a last resort to ensure that service to its customers won't be interrupted.

"RIM's work-around provides a contingency for our customers and partners and a counterbalance to NTP's threats," Jim Balsillie, RIM co-chief executive, said in a statement. "This will hopefully lead to more reasonable negotiations, since NTP risks losing all future royalties if the work-around is implemented."

James Wallace, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding and NTP's lead counsel, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Specifically, RIM has developed a software update called the BlackBerry Multi-Mode Edition. As the name suggests, the software is capable of operating in different modes that can be remotely activated by RIM through its Network Operations Center (NOC).

If an injunction is not granted, the software will operate in "standard mode," which is identical to how the current BlackBerry software works today. But if an injunction is ordered, RIM can activate the "U.S. mode" remotely via the NOC. The work-around designs would then automatically be applied for each handset and corporate e-mail server containing the Multi-Mode Edition software update.

Once consumers download the work-around, RIM said, the software upgrade will be invisible to them. Functionality of the BlackBerry devices and servers will remain the same even when it's working in U.S. mode.

The company didn't detail the specifics about how the software differs from the NTP patents. But it said the changes modify the necessary underlying elements of the BlackBerry message delivery system just enough to be fundamentally different from the NTP patent claims. The company said it has consulted lawyers to ensure that the work-around doesn't infringe on NTP patent claims remaining in the litigation. RIM has already filed new patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cover its work-around designs.

The new multimode software will be preloaded on all new BlackBerry handsets going forward, and the company will also make it available for current customers to download from a Web site at a later date.

CNET's Tom Krazit contributed to this report.