TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Legal Hassles Spread to Blackberry Competitors

Legal Hassles Spread to Blackberry Competitors

Michelle Kessler (
Wed, 1 Feb 2006 14:45:13 -0600

By Michelle Kessler, USA TODAY

Mobile e-mail addicts, already nervous about a lawsuit that threatens
to shut down BlackBerry service in the USA, have another reason to
fret: BlackBerry's biggest rival was hit with a similar lawsuit

Visto, a maker of mobile e-mail systems for cellphone carriers, sued
rival Good Technology in U.S. District Court. Visto claims Good has
violated several patents dating to 1997. Good sells e-mail products
for the Palm Treo, Hewlett-Packard iPaq and other handheld devices.

Customers shouldn't rush out to replace e-mail gadgets just because
they're jittery, says Gartner tech analyst Ken Dulaney. Much of the
industry is now involved in intertwined legal disputes. Most users
should wait until the mess works itself out, he says.

"I don't know what's with this industry," he says. "The one viable
product we can make is a lawsuit."

Visto, founded in 1996, has contracts with Cingular, Sprint and
other carriers. Its user base numbers in the "hundreds of thousands,"
says co-founder Daniel Mendez.

Good won't release figures but is believed to be larger, Dulaney says.
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIMM) has more than 4 million

Visto's attack on Good comes as a similar lawsuit against RIM reaches
a crucial stage. RIM has battled tiny intellectual property firm NTP
over patents since 2001. On Feb. 24, a federal judge is expected to
decide whether RIM must shut down its service in the USA until the
case is resolved.

Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM says it has a software workaround to keep
BlackBerrys running if it loses. But some customers remain
nervous. Good has reported growing interest in its products as a
result of RIM's legal woes.

Now Visto wants to benefit, too. By casting doubt on Good's legal
status, it hopes to win customers from both Good and RIM.

"There are justifiable marketplace jitters about whether BlackBerry
service will be shut down," Visto CEO Brian Bogosian said in a
statement. "With Visto, all users, including BlackBerry users, have a
safe-harbor alternative."

Good says it can't comment until it has time to review the claims.

Visto also has patent lawsuits against Microsoft, Seven Networks and
Smartner Information Systems.

On Wednesday, Visto plans to make a declaration in the RIM case
claiming that the industry can absorb RIM's customers if BlackBerry
service is turned off.

RIM-rival NTP has an equity stake in Visto. It also has a stake in Good.

The lawsuits raise questions about whether U.S. courts make it too
easy for companies to threaten to shut down rivals' businesses, says
lawyer Jeffrey Berkowitz at Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett &
Dunner in Washington, D.C.

It also points out flaws in the often-overwhelmed patent office,
Dulaney says.

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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