Research In Motion
is hoping to sweeten Blackberry with a software fix.
Speaking at the UBS Global Communications Conference in New York on Wednesday, RIM chief Jim Balsillie says the company has devised a "software workaround" that's being tested and could let the company continue to operate the wireless email service even as a patent challenge looms.
"We don't think it is a compromised experience," Balsillie told investors and analysts at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan. "We are very comfortable with it" and focus groups have tested it, Balsillie said. He didn't say when the fix might be rolled out.
The Waterloo, Ontario, wireless outfit has seen its shares drop 20% this year amid worries about a patent dispute with closely held intellectual property holder NTP of Arlington, Va. Earlier this, year RIM agreed to pay $450 million to settle the patent hash, but the deal fell apart in June. Now the case is back in court, where investors fear an adverse ruling could shut down the widely used service.
Asked Wednesday about progress on the settlement front, Balsillie said he couldn't comment. He described NTP's action in June, which led to the failure of the settlement, as a "dramatic repudiation" that was "quantum deltas from palatability."
NTP's patents, which cover wireless email technology, are at the
heart of the dispute. At a court hearing last Wednesday in Virginia, U.S. District Judge James Spencer said it was "highly unlikely" that he would delay the case until the Patent and Trademark Office makes a final decision on the validity of patents held by NTP.
RIM has suffered a string of setbacks in the case over the last month. First, the appeals court
declined the company's request to rehear its appeal before an expanded panel of judges. Following that, both the
appeals court and the
Supreme Court denied the company's request to delay further proceedings in the case until the Supreme Court decided whether to review RIM's appeal. RIM wants the earlier settlement agreement enforced.
In the first round of the case, NTP won an injunction that would have shut down RIM's service. However, that injunction was immediately stayed and was overturned on appeal.
The case is back at the District Court level after an appeals court largely upheld a ruling that RIM had infringed on several of NTP's patent claims. In addition to potentially considering a delay request from RIM, the first business of the District Court will be to decide whether an aborted settlement the two companies negotiated earlier this year should be enforced. Under a schedule decided last week, the two companies will file arguments with the court over the next two weeks about the settlement.
On Wednesday, RIM fell $2.73 to $64.77.