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December 15, 2005

Microsoft's ‘BlackBerry Killer’ Launch Threatened By Suit

Courtesy of CRN

Solution providers are uncertain whether Visto's patent infringement case against Microsoft could delay the market release of the software giant’s Windows Mobile 5.0 "BlackBerry killer" technology.

On Thursday, Visto filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Texas, accusing Microsoft of violating three of its mobile e-mail patents related to synchronization and security of data.

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., declined to comment on the suit as of midday Thursday.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Visto also announced that it has joined forces with NTP--the company that successfully sued Research In Motion (RIM) for violating its patents. As part of the agreement, Visto licensed NTP patents and NTP has taken an equity stake in Visto.

A similar case that NTP filed against RIM threatened to shut down the BlackBerry service recently after a court rejected a settlement agreed to by the two parties.

The latest lawsuit in the mobile world comes just about a month after Microsoft released its Messaging and Security Feature Pack to mobile phone and PDA vendors that features the company's new mobile push e-mail technology, sources familiar with the feature pack said.

One Microsoft partner with expertise in mobility said Exchange customers are anxious to have Smartphones with Blackberry-like functionality.

" Any delays caused by legal suits will result in delaying delivering line of business functionality that corporate enterprises are looking for, " said Ted Dinsmore, president of Conchango, New York. "It would cause corporations to foot the bill for additional technology which in most cases they already own. A delay will cost American corporations real money."

The Mobile 5.0 extension, combined with the recently released Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2, allows for seamless and up-to-date delivery of e-mail, contact information, calendar information and to-do items on smartphones powered by Windows Mobile 5.0.

Smartphone and PDA vendors such as Palm and Motorola are downloading the feature pack into the Windows Mobile 5.0 ROM used on their respective Treo and Q devices, scheduled to ship next quarter.

Microsoft's push e-mail capability, for example, would eliminate the need for middleware offerings that have supplied this capability, including RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Visto's platform.

One Microsoft solution provider that specializes in mobility said Visto’s claim lacks merit. "It seems to me that the litigation bandwagon goes after big targets like Microsoft," said Ken Winell, an executive at Vis.align, West Chester, Pa. "I am a little disappointed in NTP, which had a legitimate claim against RIM to take an investment in Visto."

Some solution providers told CRN they have just begun testing some of the early smartphone prototypes with the messaging and feature pack installed and with Exchange Server 2003 SP2. Though the initial results are favorable, three partners claim Microsoft is grappling with another problem that could delay the release of smartphones in the first quarter of next year.

"There is a some sort of bug, and Microsoft is working on a patch that is coming out in March 2006," said one solution provider, who requested anonymity. "That makes me think that the new Treo could be delayed, as it does take time between when Microsoft releases a patch and when the device manufacturers and carriers can implement and test."

Microsoft initially declined to comment on the issue. Late Thursday, however, a spokesman issued a statement about the lawsuit.

"Until we have an opportunity to review this complaint and investigate Visto's allegations, we're not in a position to comment specifically on them. In the meantime, however, we wish to underscore that Microsoft stands beyind its products and respects the intellectual property rights of others."

Motorola denied that there would be any delay in the release of its Q device using Windows Mobile 5.0 and denied that a bug fix is under development.

One Microsoft partner said such a scenario could impact the product cycle but that manufacturers could work around it pretty quickly. Windows Mobile 5.0 was completed last May, and Microsoft announced plans for its push e-mail feature pack in July.

"I suppose it could be a problem if these manufacturers have these devices ready to ship, then it could cause a delay if they have to take all those units back and remove this update," said Alex Zaltsman, managing director at Exigent, a solution provider in Morristown, N.J. that specializes in mobility. "But then again, they may have devices that they can continue to build and start installing the OS without the update as well."

This story was updated Friday morning with partner and Microsoft comments.

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