RIM And NTP Settle One Battle, But A Bigger One Looms
By Mike Masnick, Tue Mar 22 01:00:00 GMT 2005

While RIM and NTP finally settled their years-long patent dispute last week, the issues of patents in the mobile space is only going to get more complicated.

The battle between RIM and NTP has gone on for years, with various setbacks for both side, leading to a few odd moments, including RIM's last minute desperation plan to plead Canadian as a defense against NTP's US patent. However, in the end, RIM finally decided it was easier to settle than to continue fighting the battle.

Given the position the company was in, it probably makes sense for RIM in the short term, but the precedent may not bode well for the overall mobile data business. NTP is a patent holding company that hasn't actually done anything with the technology other than file lawsuits and try to get companies to license the patents. RIM was the company that actually innovated and offered a compelling new product -- yet it's getting punished for that fact, because this other company happens to own patents on an idea that seems like an obvious evolution: "push email" on a mobile device.

Rather than go through a similar legal battle, NTP was able to convince Nokia and Good Technology to license those same patents -- though, the Good case is a bit more questionable. Part of the deal was that NTP would invest in Good. That certainly could be viewed as NTP giving money to Good, so that Good can turn around and license NTP's patents. This would give NTP another wedge to leverage against RIM, which might just have worked.

Still, the question remains as to where the benefit falls in all of this. A lot of money was wasted on legal fees over the past four years dealing with this case -- and all of the licensing fees have gone to a company that doesn't actually produce any products, suggesting it's a net waste. The companies that are actually innovating and offering products now have less money to continue to innovate and get more products to market.

All this really does is suggest that, once again, software patents are quite often more about nuclear stockpiling than driving actual innovation in today's technology world. If anything, it seems like cases like these hold back innovation by making the real innovators pay out money for actually doing something, while the companies that sit back and do nothing just collect money without adding anything to the market place. With settlements like this one, it only encourages more of this kind of behavior.

In fact, this particular case might not really be over. There's already another company claiming that NTP doesn't even own the patents it claims to own, but that they were stolen from another firm. In other words, this is only getting more complex, and none of this is helping to push innovation forward and into the marketplace, which is the real shame.