As ‘smartphone wars’ brew, RIM partners with Intellectual Ventures

We’ve seen plenty of litigation in the mobile industry in recent months, with Microsoft, Apple, Google and others engaged in a massive battle for supremacy over how people access information on the go and the inner workings of increasingly complex devices. And now RIM, maker of the popular BlackBerry device, is looking to protect itself by allying with Nathan Myhrvold’s patent firm, Intellectual Ventures. The companies announced a license agreement today in which RIM will gain access to IV’s portfolio of more than 30,000 patents.

Intellectual Ventures is already working with a number of companies in the mobile space, including HTC, Vlingo and Samsung. But RIM is a big fish. And the Canadian mobile phone maker also has been burned in the past over IP disputes. In 2006,  the company had to pay $612 million to patent holding company NTP.

Paying more than half a billion dollars would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. And RIM now appears to be in a position to fight back if a similar situation comes up.

Intellectual Ventures, which often gets dubbed with the patent troll label, noted that litigation in the mobile industry will only become more commonplace. They write in a blog post:

In the past few years, as the smartphone industry has surged and new operating systems have begun competing with the established market players, the industry has seen an increase in litigation commonly referred to in the press as “smartphone wars.” Why has this happened? The reality is that as devices get more and more complex and contain even more features, no single company can own all the patents relevant to technology within an average mobile device. In fact, it’s been estimated that the average smartphone contains thousands of patents relating to software, hardware, messaging, connectivity and more.

Intellectual Ventures says it brings value to the industry by helping to “bridge the gap between the invention rights companies have and the rights they need.”

“RIM has always been an innovator on the forefront of the mobile communications world, and by becoming a licensing customer of IV, they can have access to a broader set of patents to assist them in the management of their IP-related business matters,” Mario Obeidat, head of telecommunications licensing at Intellectual Ventures.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

  • Hoocodanode

    So RIM’s strategy is clearly to sue a bunch of other people and hope to collect a cash settlement and then what?

    This is exactly what RealNetworks did, and did it rejuvenate the business? No – just bought them some cash to acquire other semi-related companies to temporarily juice earnings.

    RIM is the walking dead. They are Palm.