The slow motion legal drama—legal dramas seem to come at no other pace—between NTP and BlackBerry owner Research in Motion seems closer to some sort of resolution, or at least a crossroads. Last week, a federal judge declined to order RIM to stop using the NTP patents it has been found guilty of infringing upon. Rather ominously (at least for RIM), however, the judge said that the verdict can't be ignored indefinitely. The implication clearly is that the injunction will be put into effect, and sooner rather than later.
The point here isn’t to discuss the case. There is a ton of material available on the situation. The bottom line is that small businesses that rely on BlackBerries should carefully consider their options.
There are a couple of levels to this.
The most obvious is that they must have a detailed, specific and practical short-term plan in place. RIM says that it has a workaround, but the relative dearth of information from the company is troubling some experts. They have raised some pretty basic questions: Will the workaround work? How can potential users be sure that the workaround itself doesn’t infringe on the patents? Do users need a particular version of the BlackBerry enterprise server for the workaround to function? Will there be time to test the workaround before it is pressed into action?
Clearly, the first thing businesses have to do is devise a plan—or a series of plans, more likely—in case the injunction takes effect. The best case scenario is the workaround works without a hitch. This may not be the case, however, so planners must have an idea of what they will do if the RIM software proves inadequate.
The other thinking must be at a longer-term, strategic level. Several companies are using the NTP/RIM sitation as a way to make inroads in this attractive market. Good Technologies, Visto, Seven, Microsoft and others see RIM's vulnerability as a golden opportunity. This may be a good time for small companies thinking of deploying mobile email to take the plunge—good deals are sure to be available. These vendors also should be options for companies uncomfortable with what they are hearing—or not hearing—from RIM.