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BlackBerry settlement sets a bad precedent for patent-squatters and tech development in U.S.

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The RIM-NTP settlement that has removed the uncertainty surrounding the future of BlackBerry is good news for a lot of companies that now rely desperately on the "CrackBerry" as a key mechanism of doing everyday business. However, the settlement also sets a nasty precedent and calls into question the viability of some of the U.S. patent laws to be relevant to the demands of modern business.

To their credit, RIM has vigorously fought this thing out of principle. RIM could have settled this a long time ago for a lot less money. But because they were being sued not by a rival company with a similar technology but by a patent-squatter that does not develop products but simply licenses patents and tries to resell them or sue companies that hit it big with similar technologies, RIM felt that it was ludicrous to pay a dime to NTP. And, in this case, I think they were right.

The patent laws ideally help protect the little guy who gets his idea stolen by a big company that goes on to make a mint from his idea without ever paying him for it. Those laws were not meant to pad the pockets of opportunists who manipulate the legal system for financial gain.

This settlement and the whole sordid affair that surrounded it could open up other successful technology innovators to lawsuits from companies that do nothing but squat on patents that could one day develop into a hot new idea and then essentially blackmail companies that successfully develop similar ideas. If that were to happen, it could be very detrimental to next-generation high-tech development in the U.S. and could even force some companies to push some of their development activities to Europe or Asia. In order to avoid that scenario, something needs to be done at the root of the problem — the U.S. patent system — to deal with patent-squatters and to make sure that the patent system is protecting the intellectual property of the true inventors and innovators, and not capital opportunists who have no interest in actually developing real-world products.

And, no, I am not a BlackBerry user. In fact, I use a rival Treo for my mobile e-mail.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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