Visto, Good Technology Embroiled in Patent Dispute

A patent dispute has erupted betweenVisto, a provider of secure push e-mail services for mobile phones, and Good Technology.

The lawsuit, which alleges that Good’s products and services infringe on multiple patents held by Visto, was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas. The court is known by local patent lawyers as the “rocket docket” because so many patent cases are filed there, and many wind up adjudicated in favor of the plaintiff.

Now, Visto and Good join other major players in mobile e-mail — including Microsoft and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) — that are embroiled as either plaintiffs or defendants in patent lawsuits.

“Visto’s commitment to providing our customers with remote e-mail and data access services depends on our ability to protect the intellectual property that we worked tirelessly to develop almost a decade ago,” said Brian A. Bogosian, Visto’s chairman, CEO and president. “By offering our service in 75 mobile phones through some of the world’s largest mobile phone carriers, Visto has established itself as a strong player in the mobile e-mail market.”

The company has made “tremendous” technological and financial investments since 1996, and the lawsuit is a way to protect that investment, Bogosian claims.

Justifiable Jitters?

“There are justifiable marketplace jitters about whether BlackBerry service will be shut down by a federal court next month,” said Bogosian. “With Visto, all users, including BlackBerry users, have a safe harbor alternative to RIM that offers protection from intellectual property risks. Good Technology, like other late entrants to this market, has no patents directed to wireless e-mail and very clearly infringes on our long-held intellectual property.”

Visto, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., has a client list that includes Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel, the Vodafone Group,Rogers Wireless (NYSE: RG) and many others. Individual and business subscribers get Visto Mobile service through their mobile phone carriers.

Visto currently holds 25 patents, including those related to mobile e-mail and data access systems, and has 57 patents pending, including the following:

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,961,590 titled, “System and Method for Synchronizing Electronic Mail Between a Client Site and a Central Site”
  • U.S. Patent No. 6,085,192 titled, “System and Method for Securely Synchronizing Multiple Copies of A Workspace Element in a Network”
  • U.S. Patent No. 6,708,221 titled, “System and Method for Globally and Securely Accessing Unified Information in a Computer Network”
  • U.S. Patent No. 6,151,606 titled, “System and Method for Using a Workspace Data Manager to Access, Manipulate and Synchronize Network Data.”

In the claim, Visto alleges that various Good Technology products, including GoodLink, the company’s push e-mail service, infringe on the patents that Visto has held for the past nine years.

The suit seeks a “permanent injunction” against GoodLink and Good’s other infringing technology, which can power several mobile devices including the Palm Treo, HP’s iPaq hw6500 and the Motorola MPx220, among others.

The suit also seeks monetary damages, lawyers said.

Millions of Users

Good has not commented on the lawsuit, although it has millions of users who could be impacted adversely by the outcome. Good provides handheld computing software and service, and supports the Cingular 2125 smartphone running Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0.

“Together, GoodLink and the Cingular 2125 smartphone fill an important market gap; they provide an economical converged handheld solution that meets the needs of the millions of employees who require secure access to e-mail and other business applications without sacrificing the small and portable mobile phone form factor,” said Rick Osterloh, vice president of products at Good Technology.

There has been growing skepticism about these kinds of lawsuits, based on the suspicion that some companies may be using the legal system to maneuver themselves into a favorable position should Blackberry be shut down by another court — also because of a patent-related issue.

If a company does not actually make or sell products under a patent it owns, it should not be entitled to an injunction, according to one argument. What’s more, the patent owner is not really being harmed by continuing infringement, because it will receive monetary compensation, say proponents of this view. In a sense, they reason, companies are seeking too much legal protection for their inventions rather than letting the free market play out naturally.

“Over-protection is as dangerous as under-protection for innovation,” American University Law Professor Christine Haight Farley told the E-Commerce Times.

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