RIM's Patent GNAT
By Erick Schonfeld

(Business 2.0) – Of all the companies challenging RIM, the most determined is a small, privately held outfit called NTP. Founded in the 1990s by inventor Thomas Campana, it holds half of the 50 patents Campana received during a 30-year career. Five of his patents—some filed as early as 1991, long before the BlackBerry emerged—are fueling the legal battle. The patents made broad claims to the concept of sending e-mail over a wireless network and stem from a time when Campana was developing e-mail applications for AT&T's groundbreaking but ill-fated Safari line of laptop PCs.

When AT&T dumped the project, the startup Campana founded to sell the technology went belly-up. But Campana wisely created a holding company, NTP, for his intellectual property—and when RIM sales took off, NTP filed suit. Last year a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of NTP's claims, ordering RIM to pay $53.7 million in damages and issuing an injunction barring RIM from selling BlackBerrys in the United States.

A knockout blow to RIM? Not really. At press time, the ruling was on hold pending the outcome of an appeal, expected in early September. If RIM prevails, it can consider its legal nightmare pretty much over. If the ruling is upheld, the case could still go on. But most analysts believe that the two companies will eventually settle out of court. By court order, RIM has set aside more than $100 million in an escrow account. Says RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, "We've been licensing for a long time. We settle our lawsuits." Not soon enough, however, for Campana: The inventor succumbed to cancer in June at the age of 57. — E.S.