[2005-12-15] Visto Sues Microsoft Over E-Mail Patents, Teams With NTP
Mobile e-mail technology vendor Visto Thursday claimed that Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0 platform violates its patents and has signed a licensing agreement with NTP, which has sued Research In Motion for alleged patent violations.
In addition, NTP has acquired an equity stake in Visto, the company said in a statement.
Visto said in a statement that it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Microsoft in U.S. District Court in Texas that covers three specific patents owned by Visto. The complaint asks the court to prohibit Microsoft from improperly using Visto's intellectual property and asks for compensation.
Visto is among the vendors offering mobile e-mail service via cellular operators. Among those operators are Cingular, Sprint Nextel and Canada's Rogers Wireless.
Visto said in a strongly-worded statement that its co-founder, Daniel Mendez was among those who developed and patented a system to enable mobile users to receive e-mail delivered to servers behind corporate firewalls. Microsoft touted Windows Mobile 5.0, which it released last summer, as being able to connect directly to Microsoft Exchange Server so that device users have direct access to their e-mail and other personal information.
“Microsoft has a long and well-documented history of acquiring the technology of others, branding it as their own, and entering new markets,” Visto president and CEO Brian A Bogosian said in a statement. “In some cases, they buy that technology from its creator. In other cases, they wrongfully misappropriate the intellectual property that belongs to others. For their foray into mobile email and data access, Microsoft simply decided to misappropriate Visto’s well known and documented patented technology.”
Bogosian added: “Innovative companies have been pummeled out of existence or into minor players after Microsoft decided to enter their markets. Netscape and RealNetworks are among the best known examples. Courts around the world have ruled time after time against Microsoft, saying that it has acted either inappropriately or in violation of the law, especially concerning how they have treated competing companies. We will not let that happen to Visto.”
In a separate statement, Visto said that it has signed a licensing agreement with NTP, which holds patents that it has claimed RIM violates with its BlackBerry devices. It claimed that NTP's patents complement Visto's patents regarding mobile e-mail and data access.
Visto said in a statement that the agreement gives it access to NTP's patents. Both NTP and Visto called the agreement a win for users and protection against the possibility that RIM could be ordered by courts to stop operating in the U.S..
"This is a clear win for mobile e-mail users everywhere as it provides them with a viable alternative to RIM that protects them from any NTP litigation risk," Donald E. Stout, co-founder of NTP, said in a statement.
"Mobile users now know that Visto provides a safe and secure harbor that today Blackberry cannot offer its own customers," Visto's Bogosian said in a statement.
Financial details of the arrangements between Visto and NTP were not available.
DECEMBER 15, 2005
By Heather Green
NTP Sticks It to RIM
The outfit holding the vital patents has forged a new alliance -- one that puts BlackBerry's U.S. service in greater jeopardy
Patent-holding company NTP, already locked in a bitter legal dispute with Research In Motion (RIMM ), has stepped up pressure on its nemesis: It has forged an alliance that not only favors a RIM competitor, but could bolster NTP's case in the patent fight that threatens RIM's U.S. business.
On Dec. 14, NTP said it reached an agreement that allows privately held e-mail startup Visto to license NTP's technology for sending wireless e-mail -- the same technology that's at the center of the patent dispute. That makes three competitors, including Nokia (NOK ) and Good Technology, that are now NTP licensees. NTP also bought a stake in Visto.
The deal comes amid dwindling options for RIM, seller of the popular BlackBerry e-mail paging service. NTP four years ago successfully sued RIM for infringing on NTP's wireless e-mail patents. After a tentative $450 million settlement fell apart in June, RIM has battled back through court appeals, holding out hope that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) will strike down NTP's patents.
TAKING SIDES. With the appeals route in the lower courts exhausted, the U.S. District Court in Virginia overseeing the case is expected to decide as early as next month whether to uphold an earlier injunction that would in effect shut down the BlackBerry e-mail service in the U.S. (see BW Online, 12/1/05, "RIM Loses Another Round").
To avoid similar pitfalls, competitors have aligned themselves with NTP. In March, Good Technology signed an agreement to sell an equity stake to NTP as well. Mobile-phone giant Nokia obtained NTP licensing agreements 18 months ago. Visto, which holds 25 of its own patents covering wireless e-mail and data transmission, said it discussed licensing with NTP for a long time.
"This isn't a rash decision," says Brian Bogosian, chief executive of Redwood Shores (Calif.)-based Visto. "We felt [NTP's] patent portfolio was something that would provide our customers with the added insurance on top of what our portfolio provided."
NTP also says it took a stake in Visto to strengthen its legal position in asking for the injunction. Rather than simply being a patent holding company that doesn't sell any products or services, it now has stakes in two companies that are in the mobile e-mail business. "If there is an argument about whether an injunction is appropriate, we aren't in the same set of circumstances," says Don Stout, co-founder of NTP.
RIM LIMBO. Furthermore, the move is seen as a way to make RIM rivals more appealing to BlackBerry customers who are considering alternatives. Visto licenses its mobile e-mail technology to such companies as Sprint (S ), Britain's Vodafone Group (VOD ), and Canadian wireless carrier Rogers Communications (RG ), which are trying to move the wireless e-mail service beyond the traditional business market.
With uncertainty and concern rising about the outcome of the RIM-NTP suit, RIM competitors have been fielding a growing number of calls from BlackBerry customers, according to executives at Good Technology, Visto, and Microsoft (MSFT ). Licensing agreements with NTP give individuals and companies an added reason to check out these alternatives, analysts say. "It's a huge opportunity to try to steal some market share while RIM is in limbo," says Gene Signorini, an analyst at researcher Yankee Group.
While analysts say that BlackBerry customers are reluctant to give up on their beloved market-leading device, some companies are considering their options. Boeing (BA ) says that, as a precaution against a possible service interruption, it's reviewing alternatives and is in the process of developing contingency plans. The aerospace company declined to give details.
LEGAL GAMBLE. In early December, consultant Gartner advised clients to stop or delay crucial BlackBerry rollouts, pending the outcome of the case. "I would say that every 2 out of 10 companies are starting to investigate something else, but are still hoping it goes away before they have to do anything," says Ken Dulaney, a Gartner analyst.
Many analysts expect that the two sides will settle before a court orders an injunction. Estimates for that kind of deal range from $650 million to $1 billion. During the past two weeks, the two sides traded settlement proposals, though they didn't reach an agreement (see BW Online, 12/9/05, "RIM's Race with the Clock").
For the moment, however, RIM shows no signs of giving up. In one last big legal gamble, RIM plans to appeal its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. A key part of its strategy has been to hold out for the PTO review, which is expected to be finished soon. So far, the PTO results have gone RIM's way.
In preliminary reviews, all of the eight NTP patents initially discussed in the trial have been rejected. Still, even if the patents are overturned by the PTO, NTP can appeal those verdicts to a panel within the PTO, and then to the courts.
HIGH STAKES. At the same time, the company has discussed a technological alternative. The so-called workaround would let RIM keep its service up and running without relying on the disputed NTP patents if the judge imposes an injunction. Though RIM has only talked broadly about the workaround, Gartner's Dulaney says it would entail an upgrade to the company's e-mail servers and to servers run by corporations.
With the prospect of a settlement or a workaround, some RIM customers remain convinced they won't face any service interruptions. "It feels like it's a lot of posturing," says Tom LeClare, senior messaging analyst at LanData Systems, a software developer and services provider that uses 500 BlackBerry devices. Posturing or no, the stakes are nonetheless getting higher for RIM, as well as its investors and customers.
Haha they bought bogus patents, what a waste of money!!!
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