E-mail Patent Holder NTP Pursues AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint

The patent holding company that successfully produced a $612.5 million patent infringement settlement with BlackBerry producer Research In Motion even while the US Patent and Trademark Office was doubting the validity of its patents, has filed suit against the US' four leading wireless carriers for infringement of what are believed to include some of the same disputed patents.

As first reported this morning by The Wall Street Journal, NTP Inc.'s contention is that the four wireless carriers - AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel - are selling e-mail services to customers that utilize "push" technologies whose basic concepts are protected by patent. During the famous 2005 lawsuit between NTP and RIM, the USPTO declared two of the five disputed patents invalid, and was actively considering the other three.

But a year and a half later, the patent re-examination process continues. In the meantime, another NTP infringement case against device manufacturer Palm was stayed last March, pending the process' outcome. By law, patent filers are given grace periods in which to respond to official inquiries; and historically, NTP has managed to consume as much of those time periods as possible; so the delays cannot all be attributed to the Patent Office.

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Once again, the basic dispute in this new round of cases centers around whether the idea for wireless devices receiving messages directed at their users when those devices don't directly request them, was novel at the time its patent was applied for by the late inventor Thomas Campana. Although evidence in prior cases suggested that the principle was put in practice as early as 1970, recently NTP has been successful in quashing that evidence.

Even after a federal judge declined to grant NTP's motion for an injunction against RIM in February 2006, the holding company managed to elicit one of the largest settlement sums in patent case history. Since that time - as widely predicted - the holding company has used that victory as a "big stick" in obtaining licensing agreements. That tactic merited success without lawsuits with Nokia, Motorola (the parent company of Good Technology), and Visto - which ironically sued RIM almost immediately following its settlement with NTP, claiming it infringed upon its own patents...for essentially the same technology.

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