Research In Motion (RIM)—the makers of the ubiquitous Blackberry e-mail devices—revolutionized
the e-mail industry. With their portable units, people could send and receive
mail from anywhere they could get a signal, quickly and easily. It has been
said that nothing shakes the foundations of a society like when something we
all take for granted stops working, and a potential legal action could create
just such a situation for our digital society and its communications.

RIM is currently being sued for
patent violations
by NTP, Inc., a brain-trust that holds the patents on
several technologies for the transmission of e-mail via mobile device. Basically
NTP claims that Blackberry and its related services and service providers are
using technology originally envisioned by NTP patent holders, and therefore RIM
must either pay up for back royalties and licensing fees, or else shut down
their service. This would mean literally hundreds of thousands of users
of Blackberry devices
would be left with paperweights instead of e-mail devices
as the radio network and server systems shut down in the wake of the result of
the legal action, if NTP wins.

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Now, it’s unlikely that NTP will get a complete and full
injunction against RIM, at least not unless/until they win the lawsuits. The
reason for this is simple, the very Justice Department that would enforce such
a ruling is also a major user of the Blackberry services, and they would be
very hard pressed to shut down their own systems. However, what would happen if
they did?

How many people in your organization are reliant on these
devices to perform their day-to-day activities? How many need Blackberries to
stay competitive, to close deals, to keep your business ahead of others? Also,
this case could have deep repercussions for other wireless e-mail services, so
what happens if a “ripple-effect” strikes the industry in general?

First off, be ready for the possibility of loss of service. Get
all users to understand that this is a potential issue, even if the chances of
actual service loss are slim. This will at least soften the blow if the system does
go offline at some point. Also, keep in mind that there are alternatives to
Blackberry. Microsoft
has mobile e-mail services
for Exchange 2003 Server editions. Goodlink has a competing service to RIM,
offering both services and enterprise-level server systems. Both of these have
various mobile devices they will and will not work with, so keep in mind that
if you swap over it will almost definitely require new equipment.

Remember that most e-mail systems can be accessed remotely via
laptops and Web browsers. It’s no where near as convenient as the Blackberry,
but it will allow users to get to their mail when not at the office. You
probably already have everything you need to implement this service already, so
it is something you can offer without buying new hardware and units for the
whole sales crew.

While the chances of RIM going offline are slim, they are
real, and you should be taking a serious look at how your organization will
react if it happens. The Gartner analyst firm is recommending that new Blackberry
deployments be put on hold
, and as if RIM didn’t have enough problems, a
new virus
threat aimed at Blackberries
has just been discovered—one that could result
in disabling a user’s ability to view attachments. The bottom line is that
disasters come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the loss of a
depended-upon service can be as big a disaster as any other data system