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Gartner: RIM-NTP redux possible in 2007

The firm expects the patent case will settle, yet says BlackBerry worries could extend for another year.

Gartner's analysts said they bet RIM and NTP will settle their patent infringement case rather than subjecting millions of users to an injunction, yet they suggest an equal chance for the whole saga being postponed a year.

On a conference call for the firm's clients, Gartner analysts Ken Dulaney and Todd Kort echoed the sentiments of many legal analysts that a settlement is the likely outcome of the five-year legal saga. "There's great incentive for both parties to settle," Dulaney said. NTP is facing a review of its patents, while RIM's investors and customers are getting nervous about the uncertainty over whether the popular BlackBerry service will be shut down in the U.S.

Yet Gartner also believes that the re-examination of NTP's patents could delay the case, an outcome that other legal analysts have downplayed given Judge James Spencer's keen interest in ending the case. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued preliminary decisions invalidating NTP's patents, with final actions expected soon. Judge James Spencer might decide to impose an injunction but then stay that injunction pending the PTO's final decision and the appeals process, Dulaney said.

Less likely, according to Gartner, is the chance RIM will enact the mysterious "workaround" that the company says will allow it to bypass the claims in NTP's patents by updating the software on handhelds, servers, or both.

And the dreaded injunction ranked last on Gartner's list of the four most likely outcomes of the closely watched litigation.

NTP has won both a trial and RIM's appeal of a verdict that found the BlackBerry devices infringe on NTP's patents. In 2003, the judge imposed an injunction on the sale of the BlackBerry devices in the U.S., but stayed that injunction pending the appeals process. With the U.S. Supreme Court in January declining to hear the case, the two parties will gather in Virginia later this month to argue whether that injunction should be reimposed.