If you've been following the ongoing brouhaha between Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) and privately held NTP, you have my sympathies. The he-said, he-said drama has been characterized by a particularly confusing string of rulings by federal courts and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). It didn't get any easier to follow this week.
First, on Wednesday, a Federal judge said that NTP couldn't be forced to accept the settlement agreement the two companies negotiated in March. But then on Thursday, the PTO rejected one of the two NTP patents on display in the dispute. The interim decision is known as a "non-final action," which means it could be a while before anything is decided.
Meanwhile, the court continues to contemplate what to do. One real possibility is an injunction halting sales of the BlackBerry here in the U.S. That, after all, was the ruling in 2003 when a jury found in favor of NTP. A District court judge in Virginia stayed the decision at the time, giving RIM time to appeal. The company has since taken its case all the way to the Supreme Court, only to be rebuffed at every turn, leaving the company and the courts few options except to delay. Thursday's ruling by the PTO may provide the air cover needed to do just that.
Don't expect executives to sit idle in the meantime. BusinessWeekreports that Research In Motion is developing a workaround that would keep current customers connected in the event of a court-ordered shutdown of the existing BlackBerry service. No details are available, but BusinessWeek says it's likely that the workaround would require software downloads and modifications to much of the company's service infrastructure. That's hardly ideal, but a workaround could put more pressure on NTP to reach a settlement. Or it may mean absolutely nothing. Which, again, should leave investors scratching their collective heads.
Just what should you do with this stock? Here's an idea: Ignore it. There are at least three other companies -- Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) , Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , and Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) -- that stand to gain as much from the burgeoning smartphone market as RIM does. Yet exactly none of them has to deal with the same legal uncertainty. And neither do you. Hang up on this stock before it strings up your portfolio.
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Fool contributor Tim Beyers has grown fond of his Treo 600, but he owns shares of Nokia. Go figure. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.