Google, Apple, Others Sued for Email Patent Infringement


Patent-holding company NTP yesterday filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Apple (s aapl), Google (s goog), HTC, LG, Microsoft (s msft) and Motorola (s mot) for alleged violation of eight NTP patents for wireless email delivery. In 2001, NTP filed a similar suit against Research In Motion (s rimm), and in 2006, the suit was dismissed after RIM paid $612 million in a settlement. As a result of that arrangement, RIM is not named in the new suit, nor is Nokia — the world’s largest smartphone maker — since both companies have licensing agreements with the patent company.

In today’s press statement, NTP notes that after the RIM settlement, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Board of Patent Appeals reviewed NTP’s patents and ruled that 67 of NTP’s patent claims in four patents were valid. Without overturning those patents, the six handset and smartphone-software makers listed in the current suit appear to have the odds stacked against them, given that all provide wireless access to email. Unless these companies have developed some new or unique method to wirelessly transfer email, there’s a fair chance that NTP’s intellectual property is considered to be in use without permission or licensing.

NTP’s suit may sound like a slam-dunk, but there’s hope for the currently named companies. After the settlement with RIM in 2006, NTP turned to file suit against Palm (s palm) for similar alleged infringements. The following year, courts put the lawsuit on hold and the suit hasn’t moved forward since then, nor has NTP worked out any licensing deal with Palm, which is currently being acquired by HP (s hpq).

None of the companies named in the suit have commented on the NTP patent situation. If they do, we will update this post with their responses.

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Corey Gilmore

This seems pretty ballsy for a company that probably would’ve lost the lawsuit if RIM hadn’t settled. The prior art from TekNow (System for Automated Messages) was used in the 1980’s, but a lack of technical understanding in the court and some fumbling that changed directory dates gave NTP a giant opportunity.

I’m hopeful that NTP will have a giant loss this time around. Push email isn’t the primary business for any of these companies so they won’t be as damaged by public uncertainty about their future as RIM was. I wonder how concerned VISTO/Good are about the result of this?

Kevin C. Tofel

I don’t know that Visto would be too concerned – NTP is part equity-owner of Visto as the result of a licensing agreement.

Corey Gilmore

If (big if) the NTP patents were ruled invalid, would that have any affect on the RIM/NTP settlement? And the fun part – could that potentially mean Good/Visto were infringing on a RIM patents?

Joe T.

I know a former researcher who consults on software patent infringement cases. A very good mathematician and internal adviser in Bell Labs back in the day. I asked him point-blank if he ever saw a software patent that in his opinion was worth upholding on merit. After a couple of seconds of thought, he replied simply, “No.”

Joe T.

I know a former researcher who consults on software patent infringement cases. A very good mathematician and adviser inside Bell Labs back in the day. I asked him point-blank if in his opinion he ever saw a software patent that was worth upholding for its merit, and he replied simply, “No.”


So much for recent GigaOm and other’s “the return of E-mail” and “Blogs are dead, send newsletters in email”

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