NTP vs. RIM
is settled legally
, but not historically. It turns out that NTP knew that their "inventions" had significant prior art
, dating back to at least 1982, when Geoff Goodfellow committed the concept of wireless email to writing in an Arpanet mailing list. The NYTimes article is chock full of interesting quotes. Here is a sampling:
A high-school dropout, Mr. Goodfellow had his light-bulb moment in 1982, when he came up with the idea of sending electronic mail messages wirelessly to a portable device — like a BlackBerry. Only back then, there was no BlackBerry... he believed that everyone had forgotten that he had initially come up with the idea of wireless e-mail... Almost everyone had, that is, except for James H. Wallace Jr., a Washington lawyer for one of the companies involved in a patent dispute over Mr. Goodfellow's invention. Mr. Wallace represented NTP, a company aggressively defending its patents for wireless e-mail. He flew to Prague two days after first speaking to Mr. Goodfellow in early 2002 to introduce himself.
On a subsequent visit a year later, as Mr. Goodfellow remembers it, Mr. Wallace introduced him to a travel companion by saying: "Geoff's the inventor of wireless e-mail. My client patented some of its implementation workings."
DESPITE what might have been, Mr. Goodfellow says he has no regrets. His scorn for patents is widely shared by many innovators in Silicon Valley... "You don't patent the obvious," he said during a recent interview. "The way you compete is to build something that is faster, better, cheaper. You don't lock your ideas up in a patent and rest on your laurels."
Other intersting tidbits from the article include the fact that NTP hired Goodfellow as a consultant and put him under NDA, gagging him from speaking about his work during the lawsuit against RIM. He was asked to explain his inventions on a blackboard, while lawyers listening to his presentation were instructed not to take notes because they could be used against NTP in invalidating its patents. It looks like this smoking gun may dash any hopes NTP has of appealing the USPTO's preliminary invalidation of their 5 core patents
"The moral of the story is that for a long time now the patent system has been misused," said Mitchell D. Kapor, founder of the Lotus Development Corporation, the software publisher, and an adviser to Mr. Goodfellow in the early 1990's. "If it had been properly used, NTP would never have been issued its patents, and they never would have had a basis to pursue a lawsuit against R.I.M."