BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. moved a step forward in challenging one of the patents at issue in a major infringement case against the company.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a "non-final action" rejecting all the claims supporting one of five key patents in the BlackBerry dispute, according to a document posted on the patent office's Web site.
The patents being challenged by RIM are at the center of a long-running legal battle with patent holding company NTP Inc. that could force RIM to settle the case or face a court-ordered shutdown of most U.S. BlackBerry sales and service.
In the Nov. 30 document posted on the patent office's Web site, an examiner said NTP's arguments in defense of one of the patents had been deemed "non-persuasive." The examiner stopped short of a final rejection pending review of a European report.
However, patent attorneys caution that at this stage the patent office findings are only the beginning of a long appeal process that will likely stretch out months or even years.
The patents at issue cover wireless e-mail technology.
In 2003 a federal court ruled that RIM had infringed the NTP patents. Subsequent appeals by RIM have failed to stop the case, and a tentative settlement reached earlier this year broke down after the two sides failed to agree on details. On Wednesday, the presiding judge in the case refused to delay the case or enforce the failed settlement. He is expected to hold a hearing soon on a possible injunction forcing RIM to cease using NTP's technology.
U.S. District Judge James Spencer has refused to put the case on hold pending the patent office review.
Representatives for NTP and RIM had no immediate comment on the document posted on Thursday.
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM has welcomed earlier U.S. patent office findings against the NTP patent claims, saying they uphold its contention that the patents are not valid.