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Good Technology hit with wireless e-mail patent suit

As potential BlackBerry shutdown looms, Visto takes fellow RIM rival to court and asks for injunction on GoodLink software.

Wireless e-mail vendor Visto took aim Tuesday at a fellow rival to Research In Motion, filing a patent infringement lawsuit against Good Technology.

Visto and Good Technology are two of several companies looking to capitalize on the legal problems of RIM, which could see its popular BlackBerry service shut down from its own patent spat with NTP.

Visto is charging that Good Technology's products infringe on four patents it holds for sending data wirelessly over a network. The company is seeking a permanent injunction against the GoodLink software that runs Good's system, the same remedy sought by NTP against RIM's wireless software and services.

The request for an injunction is a standard part of a patent-infringement lawsuit, said Rod Thompson, who specializes in intellectual property litigation as a partner at Farella Braun & Martel in San Francisco. However, Visto aims to remove a competitor with its requested injunction, he pointed out, whereas NTP is just looking for more leverage to force a settlement with RIM.

"We have been taking action over the last few years to be sure that the rights of the innovators are protected," Daniel Mendez, senior vice president of strategy and co-founder of Visto, said in an interview Tuesday. "Although we are very well-financed, and although we are seeing our resources increase as our technology is adopted, we still have to take things one step at a time."

In December, Visto signed a licensing agreement for NTP's patents, and NTP agreed to an equity stake in the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based wireless push e-mail company. Visto recently sued Microsoft, alleging similar patent infringement by Windows Mobile 5.0's new ability to push e-mail to handheld devices. Another patent-infringement suit, against Seven Networks, is expected to go to trial in the next few months, Mendez said.

Visto's products let IT departments provide employees with access to e-mail behind corporate firewalls by "pushing" that e-mail to handheld devices like the Treo 650. The software resides on servers as well as on cell phones and handhelds.

The company allows wireless carriers to attach their own brands to e-mail services offered using Visto products. It has recently signed deals with Vodafone and Rogers Wireless.

The Visto suit against Good Technology was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The four patents at issue are patents 5,961,590; 6,085,192; 6,708,221 and 6,151,606.

Patent matters
Visto has already established an edge in one area that threatens to put a crimp in NTP's case against RIM. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued preliminary decisions striking down all of NTP's patents, and is expected to issue final actions this year. NTP has the right to appeal that decision, but the rulings create an additional bit of uncertainty in a fast-moving case.

However, one of Visto's patents--No. 6,085,192--has already gone through three examinations by the PTO, Mendez said. The most recent was held this year, when Seven Networks requested a reexamination and the PTO upheld 15 of Visto's 25 claims within that patent, Mendez said. The others have yet to be reexamined, he said.

That favorable reexamination ruling makes the 6,085,192 patent claim stronger, Thompson said. However, if Good Technology discovers additional prior art--or examples of the technology in use before the patent claim was filed--it would be able to seek a new examination, he said.

Good Technology, which like Visto, Intellisync and other wireless e-mail vendors has been actively promoting itself as a RIM replacement, declined to comment on the case. "Until we've had an opportunity to review the complaint, we're not in a position to comment on it," a representative for the company said Tuesday.

Wireless e-mail customers that are worried about an interruption of their BlackBerry service and looking for other options will probably be frustrated by the new round of legal maneuverings, said Kitty Weldon, an analyst at Current Analysis.

"The wireless e-mail market is poised for this huge growth path, but all this stuff is stalling it," Weldon said.