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NTP Wins Appeal: Its Patents May Live On To Haunt Mobile Industry

Remember NTP? It became perhaps the most famously successful patent-holding company in history when it exacted $612 million in tribute from RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) back in 2006. The company’s new round of mobile lawsuits-against all the big industry players, including AT&T (NYSE: T), Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), Verizon, and others-were on hold while the U.S. Patent Office took a second look at RIM’s patents.

The U.S. Patent Office threw out many of RIM’s patents during the reexam; but RIM appealed the decision, and now has won on appeal, Bloomberg reports. That means the reexam proceedings will happen all over again, but with different guidance from courts.

NTP’s lawsuits were on hold pending the result of this appeal. Because the case has been remanded back to the Patent Office, it probably means there will be yet more delays before NTP can re-open its lawsuits. But it also means that the companies being sued by NTP (and again, that’s just about the whole industry) will have some potentially major suits hanging over their heads for months or even years to come.

The company says its patents are foundational technologies when it comes to sending e-mail over a mobile phone. Taking a look at today’s decision [PDF], the crux of the disagreement is that the panel of judges hearing the appeal believe that the patent office didn’t use the correct definition of the term “electronic mail.”

NTP was founded by Donald Stout, a patent lawyer himself. Stout reportedly collected $177 million personally from the RIM settlement. The giant NTP settlement came when a judge was on the verge of ordering a shutdown of RIM’s Blackberry network. Such a shutdown would be practically impossible for a patent-holding company like NTP to orchestrate today; a 2007 Supreme Court decision, eBay (NSDQ: EBAY) v. MercExchange, made it much harder for patent holders to get injunctions when they win lawsuits.

Stout declined to comment to Bloomberg on NTP’s win today.