BlackBerry Dodges First Shutdown Bullet

At a critical court hearing in U.S. District Court today, Federal Judge James Spencer did not order Research In Motion‘s BlackBerry wireless service to be shut down in the United States. However, he strongly urged Canada’s RIM and patent-holder NTP to settle their dispute. If no settlement is reached by next week, Judge Spencer indicated he would issue an injunction which wasn’t likely to please either company.

Patent-holder NTP argued that Judge Spencer should order the immediate shutdown of the BlackBerry network in the U.S. and order RIM to pay $126 million in damages. RIM, in turn, argued Judge Spencer should hold off on any decision until the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office completes its review of NTP’s patents. The USPTO has issues preliminary rejections of the NTP patents at issue in the case, as well as one final rejection of a contested patent. NTP pointed out in a public statement yesterday that the final validity of patents is determined by federal courts, not the USPTO.

Although Judge Spencer’s actions today give RIM and NTP a little more time to work out their differences, the patent dispute case has grown both long and bitter, with both sides previously spurning several settlement opportunities. Industry watchers interpret Judge Spencer’s actions as a final warning to both parties not to force him to resolve the dispute.