By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 3/3/2006 6:53:40 PM ET 2006-03-03T23:53:40
COMMENTARY

Do you hear that noise? It's the sound of millions of BlackBerry users letting out a sigh of relief.

Today’s announcement of a settlement in the BlackBerry patent case is welcome news to all of us who are addicted to our little handheld e-mail friends. I hate the term "CrackBerry" — but I have to agree that these clever little devices are addictive.

At least now we won’t have to spend the weekend, or the weeks that follow, wondering what we’re going to do if the U.S. government had decided to shut down our lifeblood.

It would have been really ugly. Can you imagine seeing thousands of BlackBerry users just standing around and staring at their signal-less, wireless devices?

It’s costing BlackBerry’s parent company, Research in Motion, a lot of money to make NTP, the other guys, go away — $612.5 million to be exact. But RIM has been preparing for this moment. They previously set aside $450 million for just such a day. And they say they’ll cover the additional $162.5 million. No problem.

Today’s settlement means the case in Federal court goes away. But, there’s still one question to be answered.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been reviewing all of the patents in question and one-by-one has been ruling in RIM’s favor. The agency has issued a final rejection on two of the five patents. A final decision to overturn all the patents in question is currently being rushed.

My question is for the courts: what happens if and when the patent office finishes and winds up agreeing with RIM? It seems to me that $612.5 million is a lot of money to have to pay while you’re waiting to be proven right.

Maybe RIM believes the vast sum is the price it has to pay for doing business in the United States. It’s almost like something from an episode of “The Sopranos.”

So, RIM is free and clear to continue what they’ve been doing so well for a long time (in consumer electronics years) without having to worry about this lawsuit. Now all they have to worry about is the competition, which is starting to catch up when it comes to portable e-mail devices.

For now, I’ll be able to smile again whenever I look at my BlackBerry to get my email. And I still love my 8700c. It’s a quad-band GSM handset that works all over the world and can surf the Web faster than any other portable device I’ve ever used.

I can’t wait to see what RIM has up its sleeve for the next round of handhelds. 

Personally, I’m glad they settled. But I think this story is only beginning.

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