Research In Motion
Yes, the stakes are high. If Research In Motion's appeal fails, a permanent block on the sale of the firm's Blackberry handsets and services will be disastrous. With Blackberry sales soaring, the company's future rests on this intellectual property.
And yes, a jury found that Research In Motion's products infringed on five of NTP's patents and awarded damages of $23 million. Later, a judge granted NTP the right to 8.5% of all Blackberry sales and the right to block the sale of Blackberry. Since May 2003, Research In Motion has been putting 8.5% of its revenue aside. For 2003, that amounted to nearly $59 million.
But the market doesn't seem too worried. Analysts covering Research In Motion base their earnings projections on revenues not discounted by the court's 8.5% reward. That's because most reckon the NTP patent will be struck down. (We're generally skeptical about analysts' projections, but in this instance, it is telling that they're including the 8.5% in revenues.)
Given the history of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, that 's probably not a bad assumption. Reviews take at least a year, are very rare, and, as it turns out, very few actually outlive the process. The office could find that NTP's patents are too broad and shouldn't have been granted to in the first place.
Closure on the case is not expected before 2005. Until then, expect a vigorous appeal from Research In Motion. Importantly, the company has a big balance sheet and a big incentive to make the lawsuit go away. Don't be surprised if Research in Motion reaches an upfront agreement with NTP this year.
What's your opinion? Will the ongoing legal concerns sink Research In Motion? Talk it over with Fools on the Research In Motion discussion board.
Motley Fool contributor Ben McClure hails from the Great White North. Ben doesn't own any shares mentioned here.