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BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. scored another victory at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Wednesday when the agency invalidated a key NTP Inc. patent in the infringement case threatening to shut down the popular wireless service. The decision, touted by RIM on its Web site, is not final, but the company says the latest ruling eliminates five of the seven pending patent claims that NTP had successfully enforced in court. Still, the company’s latest victory at the patent office doesn’t mean it will be successful in persuading a federal judge not to shut down its BlackBerry e-mail service in the U.S. U.S. District Judge James Spencer in Virginia indicated earlier that he is unwilling to await final word from the patent office before ruling on NTP’s request for an injunction, even after the patent office invalidated two other patents involved in the case late last year. Spencer is scheduled to hear NTP’s motion for an injunction Feb. 24. Mark Lemley, an IP professor at Stanford Law School, said it will be years before the patent office takes final action on the case, so it makes no sense for Spencer to wait. “I don’t think it will have any effect on the district court decision or the injunction,” Lemley said. “NTP can appeal to the [Patent Office] board, and from there to the Federal Circuit.” In 2002, a federal jury in Richmond, Va., found that RIM had committed willful infringement and awarded NTP $23 million. The court later increased the award to $53.7 million. Last year, the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also found that RIM was infringing NTP patents. But it gave RIM a chance to continue battling over one element of the case. It said the lower court had misconstrued one claim and asked the district court to consider whether this would have prejudiced the jury’s verdict.

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