Blackberry maker sees off patent challenge in UK

Blackberry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has won a case in which it showed that another company's patent relating to mobile web devices was invalid. The court has said that Inpro Licensing was "miles away" from proving that its patent was valid.

RIM had won its case last year when the High Court ruled that Inpro's patent was invalid. The Court of Appeal has now dismissed an appeal lodged by Inpro, a patent holding company. Inpro had attempted to use the now-invalid patent to accuse RIM of infringing it.

Inpro's patent relates to a device used for accessing the web on the move, and dates from 1996. Blackberry devices hit the market in 1999.

Inpro sued RIM in the US for patent infringement, so in 2006 RIM applied for Inpro's patents to be declared invalid in the UK. Inrpo then counter-claimed against RIM for patent infringement in the UK.

The original High Court decision found that though RIM did infringe the terms of Inpro's patent, that patent was invalid. The Court of Appeal did not rule on RIM's objection to the infringement ruling because it first found that the patent was invalid.

"We began by hearing Inpro's appeal, for unless that succeeded, there was no point in hearing the matters raised by the respondent's [RIM's] notice," said Lord Justice Jacob in his ruling.

The patent was declared to be obvious in relation to previous inventions in the field. The courts found that what Inpro claimed as unique technology had been demonstrated before, in large part, by other developers.

"The [High Court] Judge did not actually find the earlier proposals to be common general knowledge in 1996 even though only newcomers to internet technology would not have seen and been aware of it since it was contained in a basic internet technology document," said Jacobs. "If he had, [Inpro's] claim would have added nothing but self-evident common general knowledge. As things stand, the earlier proposals are good supporting evidence of the obviousness of the idea."

Both parties employed expert witnesses to give evidence in the original case, but the High Court only found the evidence of RIM's witness to be credible.

"Most unusually for an English patent action, one of the experts, Prof. Eisenstein who was called by Inpro, was held to be 'simply an unsatisfactory expert' for the reasons set out by the Judge," said Jacobs. "Most importantly, apart from not being a worker in the field himself, 'it was clear that he did not research the position properly.' The result of this was that there was for practical purposes only the evidence of Professor Handley, called by RIM. His evidence, tested by cross-examination, was held to be 'cogent and helpful'. So it is clear that when he gave evidence on a point and stated his opinion with reasons, there was not only ample material for the judge to reach a conclusion based on that opinion, but that was the only real material on the point."

Jacobs was scathing about Inpro's case that the original judge had erred in principle. "In my judgment, Mr Burkill is miles away from showing that the Judge was wrong – and many many miles away from showing any error of principle," he said.

Meanwhile, RIM has settled a suit involving South Korea's Samsung Electronics. Samsung had launched a smart phone called BlackJack and had applied to register the term as a trade mark. RIM filed a lawsuit in California alleging trade mark infringement, but the two companies have now settled their dispute.

"RIM is very pleased to have reached a mutually beneficial settlement agreement that includes immediate provisions for the protection of RIM's valuable trademarks," the company said.