Government wants court hearing on BlackBerry usage

Justice Department seeks a hearing on the technical details of exempting government users from a possible blackout.

A court adjudicating a patent spat over the BlackBerry communications device needs to hold a hearing on the technical details of exempting government users from a potential blackout, the Bush administration said Thursday.

"The government requests that the court grant it leave to intervene ... for the limited purpose of appearing and being heard, taking discovery relating to implementation of any injunction, and participating in any evidentiary hearing relating to implementation of any injunction," a Feb. 16 filing with a Virginia federal district judge said.

The Justice Department filing is the latest salvo in the ongoing saga over whether Judge James Spencer will order the BlackBerry maker Research in Motion to stop distributing and supporting its ubiquitous communications device in the United States.

Under federal law, government users are exempt from injunctions in patent-infringement cases and instead can pay royalties. But the government is worried about the effectiveness of any technical solutions implemented to shield government BlackBerry users and its thousands of contractors from an injunction.

The administration wants Spencer to hold an additional hearing on the matter.

Robert McIntosh, an attorney for Justice, noted in the court filing that the plaintiff, patent holder NTP, had suggested several technical plans for government BlackBerry users. But Justice wants NTP to identify only one plan and for both NTP and RIM to agree to that plan in a hearing.

NTP should choose the plan and provide information and evidence to the government on how it would work, McIntosh said. Then the judge should schedule a hearing to resolve outstanding issues that might arise before he issues an injunction.

To exempt users from a service blackout, those government officials and contractors first must be identified. As outlined in the government's brief, there appear to be several methods of doing so, but the process of collecting the information involves significant legwork.

McIntosh said in the court filing that to save time, the government wants to ensure that any technical proposal will work and will be all-inclusive.

After talking to telecommunications carriers, the government determined that the carriers could not identify BlackBerry users, McIntosh wrote.

The government also needs to agree with NTP on which contractors to exempt from a blackout.

McIntosh noted that NTP does not want any more delays of the injunction against RIM. But many critical government departments, including Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services depend on the devices, which justifies the additional hearing, McIntosh wrote.

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