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Key figure in BlackBerry case dies

Patent holder in infringement case against Research In Motion dies on eve of latest arguments.

Tech history may remember Thomas Campana as the man who took on Research In Motion and its popular BlackBerry device, but to friends and co-workers he was a tireless and inventive engineer committed to perfecting the best that wireless technology has to offer.

Campana died June 8 at the age of 57, a day after an appeal got under way in a high-profile patent infringement case launched by Campana's Tom Campana, Co-founder, NTP company, NTP, against RIM and its renowned BlackBerry device for sending and retrieving e-mail wirelessly.

"Tom's whole professional life was primarily concerned with offering engineering services for people," said Don Stout, a business partner who worked with Campana for 18 years and an attorney at Antonelli, Terry, Stout & Kraus. "He was good at recognizing problems and was pragmatic about finding solutions."

Campana won some 50 patents in his 30-year career, but none raised as much of a fuss as those involved in the dispute over the BlackBerry. Campana was co-founder and president of NTP, and the co-inventor of patented technology the company is seeking to protect.

Last year, a district court judge ruled RIM had infringed on NTP's patents and ordered an injunction on RIM device and service sales. The injunction, however, was stayed following an appeal.

People close to NTP downplayed speculation that Campana's death could open the door to a quick settlement in the case.

"Tom's passing is not going to affect NTP's resolve to protect its IP," said one NTP attorney referring to intellectual property. "There's no additional incentive on NTP's side (toward a settlement). If anything, heightened emotions might make settlement and avoidance of an injunction more difficult (for RIM) should NTP win this case."

Campana attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and served in the Air Force for four years before embarking on his career as a wireless technology developer.

NTP's confrontation with RIM had its seeds in applications Campana built for AT&T's Safari notebooks, a product line that allowed data to be received wirelessly. The ideas behind those applications eventually became the patents that are now in dispute.

His many inventions include wireless location technology that lets parents find their kids within a mile radius. Campana received first prize at the 1996 Consumer Electronics Show for his child-finder technology.

Companies including Motorola and Nokia have licensed various patents held by Campana.

Friends say Campana's dedication to engineering was such that, just days before his death from a long battle with cancer, he was tinkering with a malfunctioning remote control that his wife had been complaining about.

He also loved model trains, having recently restored vintage Lionel models from his childhood and designed an ornate track for them.

Campana is survived by his wife, two children, three stepchildren and six grandchildren.