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Could a patent kill your favorite gadget?

Could a patent kill your favorite gadget?

Good news for the BlackBerry-addicted among us: Research in Motion has reached a US$612.5 million dollar settlement with NTP, the tiny company whose patents threatened to render RIM's insanely popular e-mail handheld a digital outlaw.

Barring RIM defeating NTP in court, a deal was the only outcome that made sense for anyone involved, so you had to think it'd occur eventually...but it's a relief to see it happen. Even though RIM always said it had a backup plan of some sort.

As I've said before, I'm a Treo 650 user, not a BlackBerrian, so I watched the legal wrangling with a certain detachment. But it got me thinking: Has any popular technology gadget ever run afoul of patent laws in a way that threatened its viability? The only one that comes to mind is Kodak's instant camera of the 1970s, which became a doorstop when Polaroid successfully sued Kodak and both the camera and film for it were discontinued.

But patent tussles are an ugly part of life in corporate America. And some involve gadgets I have trouble remembering life without.

If you're a BlackBerry user, are you breathing easier today? And whether you are or not, do you have any thoughts on whether the patent system is working for or against technology innovation these days?


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