This week in legal issues

Hot-button issues in the tech community kept court dockets busy this week.

Hot-button issues in the tech community kept court dockets busy this week.

Research In Motion was dealt a setback when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an emergency appeal by RIM to review a long-running patent suit, a development that could shut down RIM's BlackBerry service in the United States.

Despite the potential threat of having to shutter its service, RIM could avoid a U.S. shutdown if it ultimately wins the case or decides to license the patent from NTP. A company executive also noted that RIM has a backup plan, or software "workaround," for BlackBerry devices and their respective servers should the company fail to convince the courts of its case.

Meanwhile, new federal wiretapping rules forcing Internet service providers and universities to rewire their networks for FBI surveillance of e-mail and Web browsing are being challenged in court. Telecommunications firms, nonprofit organizations and educators are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to overturn the controversial rules, which dramatically extend the sweep of an 11-year-old surveillance law designed to guarantee police the ability to eavesdrop on telephone calls.

The regulations represent the culmination of years of lobbying by the FBI, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which have argued that "criminals, terrorists and spies" could cloak their Internet communications with impunity unless police received broad new surveillance powers.

Microsoft came under renewed scrutiny when a federal judge scolded the company for devising a marketing plan that would have forced portable-music player makers to package only Windows Media Player with their products. A recent federal court filing revealed that Microsoft initially drafted a marketing agreement with language indicating that manufacturers that signed on would be barred from supplying software other than the Windows product.

"It seems to me that at this date, you should not be having something like this occur," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said at a status conference here, adding that she found the issue "one of concern."

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