Tech Industry

RIM chief: Chances of NTP deal appear slim

Research In Motion would settle the legal drama over the BlackBerry, but not at the terms NTP is offering, CEO says.

An outside licensing counsel told Research In Motion it would have to be "crazy" to accept the latest licensing terms offered by NTP, RIM's chief executive officer told attendees at a financial conference on Thursday.

During the RBC Capital Markets Communications, Media and Technology Conference in Whistler, British Columbia, Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of the BlackBerry maker, said NTP's final position on licensing terms was too harsh for RIM to swallow. The comments were available via a Webcast on RIM's investor relations site.

"The problem with these guys...when they took their final position on 'here's what we'll do,' it wasn't about money. They wouldn't give us terms that would allow us to carry on our business," Balsillie said in response to a question about how far RIM planned to carry its long-running dispute with NTP. It was unclear what those terms were, or when they were offered.

NTP won a jury verdict in 2002 in a case charging that RIM's BlackBerry wireless e-mail devices and software infringed on NTP patents. Appeals of that decision have run their course, and on Friday the companies will appear in a Virginia court to argue over whether an injunction should be imposed on the sale of BlackBerry devices and software in United States. Millions of BlackBerry users are closely watching the outcome of that hearing, and the two companies have spent much of Thursday in a public war of words.

Analysts and legal experts have urged RIM to settle the case to end the uncertainty. The companies appeared to have settled last year for $450 million, but that deal fell apart. Recent talks appear to have led the parties no closer to a resolution.

RIM appears ready to meet its fate in court Friday. "Would I do a license today that would protect our ecosystem at the rates they said? Absolutely. Just to get it done with, absolutely. But would it last for the next 10 to 20 years and not give me protection for my business as it evolves? Not in a million years." Balsillie said.

NTP responded to Balsillie's comments in a statement distributed Thursday.

"NTP has offered RIM a license that fully protects everyone: its customers, carriers and partners. NTP put this in its Jan. 17, 2006 public court filings so that everyone can see for themselves how it protects everyone. It is RIM's choice not to protect its customers, carriers and partners. NTP just wants global peace between the parties."

Barring an outbreak of detente, if the injunction is imposed on Friday, "the workaround is ready to go," Balsillie said. "We've got dozens of customers using it. We haven't had one complaint."

RIM is hoping to avoid the injunction by pointing to the re-examinations of NTP's patents. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued its first final rejection of one of the five NTP patents in question this week; four other patents have received nonfinal actions. NTP has the right to appeal that decision, but "never have any of these appeal rights been successful with a director-ordered re-examination," Balsillie said.