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February 24, 2006

BlackBerry throwdown — Or, why I'm glad Jim Balsillie (Chairman and Co–CEO of RIM) is not my anesthesiologist


I've been following this epic corporate struggle for years, since NTP Inc. filed its patent infringement lawsuit against RIM, with NTP stating that its patents (dating back to 1991) cover the automated transmission of wireless emails to a handheld device and that RIM needs to pay for using their technology.

Back in the day NTP would've settled for $10 million or $20 million, said NTP's co–founder, Donald Stout, in today's Wall Street Journal front–page lead article.

Now NTP wants $1 billion to go away and RIM's Jim Balsillie in talking as tough as ever, telling the Journal that NTP's patents are "committed to the garbage bin."

That may well be.

But what Balsillie, with his take–no–prisoners scorched earth tactics, has done is to create hesitation and doubt among his users who wonder what will happen if Judge James Spencer, who is weighing remedies in the case, simply shuts down BlackBerry's use of NTP's technology.

Balsillie claims he's got a back–up system ready to go but many others who are knowledgeable about such technology say that it's iffy at best.

Me, I look at the whole uproar in the light of something Voltaire wrote, to wit: "I have never been ruined but twice in my life — once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one."


There is something to be said for a liberal arts education even in the rarified air of high technology.

When I was boy growing up in Milwaukee there was a memorable (I mean, ipso facto that's the case, isn't it, since I'm mentioning it here, all these years later?) public service announcement that appeared on TV from time to time.

It was a photograph of a car crashed into another at an intersection, with the caption,


Me, I like an anesthesiologist who does what works — not what's right.

There's a huge difference.

My favorite intraoperative example of the huge divide between the two came once when a patient started moving on the OR table.

The surgeon looked up over the drape and said, "Hey, the patient's waking up."

The resident I was working with said, "Huh?"

The surgeon said, "She's bucking."

The resident replied, "She can't be — she's paralyzed."


And no one, not even August A. Busch IV, was drinking a Bud at the time.

After I stopped laughing and pushed more muscle relaxant, I took the resident aside and pointed out to him that even though his nerve stimulator showed profound neuromuscular block, that didn't preclude the patient from not, in fact, being completely paralyzed.

Just one more example of why, in the end, your machines will always let you down.

Believe the patient.

Pay up, Jim.

February 24, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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yeah, my favorite PSA was during the second oil shock in the 70s.

everyting a man got into his car, his foot swelled up really big and he slammed on the accellerator and roared around town.

then it said DON'T BE A LEAD FOOT.

Can that apply here, somehow?

Posted by: Three Layer Cake | Feb 26, 2006 1:36:48 AM

Good point. Always believe the patient, or was it the patent? :-)

Posted by: Clinical Cases and Images | Feb 24, 2006 6:35:30 PM

The problem here is, while normally I would agree with you, NTP just owns copyrights. And it's the sort of thing that shows how odd copyright law is getting. So for the sake of technology I sdon't CARE about RIM itself I just want them to win this for the copyright precedent. See, if they had settled for 10 or 20 it would have set precendent and... well... I don't think that'd be a good thing.

Posted by: Adam P. Knave | Feb 24, 2006 5:16:40 PM

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