Research In Motion Pays NTP $612.5 Mln to End Suit
Research In Motion Ltd. paid $612.5 million to settle a patent dispute with NTP Inc., ending a four- year legal battle and averting the shutdown of BlackBerry e-mail service across the U.S.
All terms have been finalized and litigation by NTP has been dismissed, the companies said in a joint statement today. The settlement relates to all patents owned and controlled by NTP and covers all of Research In Motion's products, the companies said.
A settlement would remove a legal challenge that has dogged Research In Motion since 2001 and threatened to halt service to as many as 3.2 million Americans, including Wall Street bankers and White House staff. Research In Motion Co-Chief Executive Officer James Balsillie can now focus on fending off competitors such as Palm Inc. and Motorola Inc., amid signs that BlackBerry is slipping in popularity among consumers.
"A settlement is the only way to make NTP go away,'' Richard Williams, an analyst with Garban Institutional Equities in Jersey City, New Jersey, said before the announcement. "It's in no one's best interests that BlackBerry shut down.'' Williams rates the shares "buy'' and doesn't own them.
Research In Motion's U.S. shares rose 53 cents to $71.92 at in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading before the announcement and the trading halt. The shares have risen 9 percent this year, indicating shareholders were anticipating a settlement.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer on Feb. 24 delayed a decision on whether to order a halt to BlackBerry service. He had been deciding how much Research In Motion owes for infringing NTP patents. A Richmond, Virginia, jury in 2002 found the patents were infringed and Research In Motion lost the appeal. Concerns Soothed
Analysts including Garban's Williams, Mike Abramsky at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto and Pablo Perez-Fernandez, an analyst at ThinkEquity Partners in San Francisco, anticipated a settlement of between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.
Research In Motion has about $1.6 billion in cash and generated $1.35 billion in revenue last year, mainly from BlackBerrys, which allow instant e-mail exchange, day planning and mobile-phone service.
The prospect of a court-ordered halt to service prompted the U.S. and Canadian governments to get involved in the dispute. Canada unsuccessfully challenged the infringement finding and the U.S. said it was concerned a shutdown would interfere with critical communications. Concern
Members of Congress were so concerned by the prospect of a shutdown that they wrote to the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is separately examining the validity of the NTP patents. Research In Motion developed an alternative technology to keep BlackBerrys running during any court-ordered halt.
Since first being sold in 1999, the BlackBerry has gained a market share of more than 70 percent among hand-held e-mail devices, according to FTN Midwest Research. The machines have been dubbed the "CrackBerry'' by those addicted to it.
NTP settled amid signs that the patent office was leaning toward canceling its patents. The 2001 suit claimed Research In Motion infringed five patents for inventions by electrical engineer Thomas Campana, NTP's founder. Infringement findings on two patents were upheld by an appeals court.
The office has said the two patents shouldn't have been issued because they don't contain a new invention. NTP can appeal that decision to a board within the patent office and then to a court. That review will continue because the patent office action is separate from the litigation.
Research In Motion and NTP have agreed to settle before. The companies reached a tentative agreement last March under which Research In Motion would have paid NTP $450 million. The accord fell apart in June. Competition
An agreement may also soothe concerns of customers such as United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp., whose workers all have the device and who said in December they were looking into alternative services.
The dispute caused some potential subscribers to "pause,'' Research In Motion's Balsillie said. The company lowered its forecast for subscriber growth in the quarter ending this month, predicting 700,000 to 750,000 new customers instead of 775,000 to 825,000.
The settlement may help BlackBerry stem a slide in its popularity among consumers. Palm Inc. sold 602,000 of its rival Treo devices last quarter, almost as many as Research In Motion's 645,000 BlackBerrys. In the previous quarter, there was a 150,000- unit gap. Treo also beat the BlackBerry in a customer satisfaction survey conducted by Brandimensions, a researcher that assesses a product's "buzz'' on the Internet. New Devices
Motorola and Nokia Oyj, the world's largest phone makers, are also scheduling releases of new devices. Microsoft Corp., Good Technology Inc. and Seven Networks Inc. also offer versions of BlackBerry-type technology.
FTN in a report last month estimates BlackBerry market share could drop to 50 percent by 2010. A report March 2 by consulting firm Telwares Communications LLC showed a shutdown of BlackBerry service would have cost customers $844 each to find an alternative.
Pleasanton, California-based Telwares said the litigation had "profoundly impacted'' customers.