Blackberry network approaches shutdown D-Day

User’s of Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry wireless enabled handhelds will be anxiously watching as the clock ticks down to February 24th, the date when a US judge will decide whether the BlackBerry network will be shut down in the United States, or allowed to continue operating.

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.

Whilst NTP has won several court victories, RIM has made progress in persuading the US Patent and Trademark Office to throw out NTP’s patents. Now, however, the skirmishing is coming to an end as both sides prepare their final legal arguments for the court case at the end of February.

The stakes are high, with RIM facing the shut down of its entire US network. Although RIM claims it has a software workaround ready, how effective or user-friendly this will be is impossible to determine. Meanwhile, RIM’s rivals have sensed blood, with Visto claiming it can provide a “push” email service to all BlackBerry users within 30 days of a shutdown of RIM's network.

In reality, NTP doesn’t actually want to put RIM’s Blackberry network out it business. NTP are one of those patent parasites; companies that don’t actually produce anything useful, like a product or service, but instead exist to suck the lifeblood from the bodies of their patent victims.

Shutting down the BlackBerry network does nothing to boost NTP’s coffers. They are gambling that the inconvenience to BlackBerry users will be so great that RIM will cough up the cash rather than risk destroying its user base.

It’s a high stakes game but should RIM lose expect the Betty Ford Clinic to be inundated with “high flying” execs, politicians and celebrities looking for help to get them over their “CrackBerry” addiction.