Research In Slow Motion

The success of Research in Motion’s (RIM) Blackberry, the always-on wireless enabled handheld that allows users access to company email and data, has been the envy of many of its rivals.

Commonly referred to as the “Crackberry” because of its addictive qualities, commuter trains are littered with company executives huddling down to get their latest hit from the handheld devices on which they are now dependent.

However, not everything has been rosy in Blackberry land this week.

First of all there was the news that the BBC had been forced to suspend its Blackberry network after an “obscure bug” meant that RIM’s server software was mixing parts of different messages, with the result that BBC executives were receiving portions of messages not intended for them.

RIM has been quick to release a fix for this but it faces another problem which is proving altogether more intractable and could ultimately result in the shutdown of its service in the United States.

RIM’s problems stem from a long running legal dispute with NTP, which centres on patents covering the transmission of email over a radio networks. A court ruled in favour of NTP but negotiations have broken down over a $450m settlement, prompting NTP to seek the confirmation of an injunction that would ban the sale of Blackberry devices in the US.

The legal dispute rumbles on but should RIM lose the fight, the company says it has prepared a backup plan to ensure the service to its US Blackberry customers isn’t interrupted. Nonetheless, the prospect of any upheaval for RIM and a possible ban on Blackberry sales is sure to have one company in particular rubbing its hands with glee.

Microsoft has long envied the success of the Blackberry, with Ray Ozzie, founder of Groove networks and Microsoft’s new chief technology officer, singling-out the Blackberry as a product that has successfully brought together hardware, software and services to create a seamless user experience.

It is, therefore, no surprise to see the software giant siding with NTP in the patent dispute. The possibility of limiting the sale of Blackberry devices by helping drag out the legal fight plays right into Microsoft's hands, giving it time to promote its own “Blackberry Killer” in the form of the Windows Mobile 5.0 platform.