RIM revises new-subscriber numbers

BlackBerry maker RIM has missed its expectations for Q3 and Q4 new-user subscriptions.

It is now expecting to total no more than 654,000 new users for Q3, against an anticipated 680,000-710,000.

And RIM said its Q4 forecast was likewise too high; it now says the three months to March 2006 will see between 751,750 and 800,250 new users.

RIM blamed its failure to get its Blackberry 8700 and 7130 on sale quickly enough – “unanticipated launch delays” meant these North American-only products were a month late, appearing in mid-December. The delay was significant because RIM could have expected a pre-Christmas sales upsurge in November. The company said future sales forecasts remain unchanged, however.

There’s another ongoing problem, though, and this one is potentially very serious: RIM could be forced out of business in the USA. A company called NTP sued RIM in 2002 for patent infringement and won an injunction to shut down RIM’s service in the States. RIM appealed and the injunction was stayed. In March 2003 RIM paid NTP $450m in settlement, but that has been declared invalid. With the appeal process largely exhausted, RIM faces the risk of a fresh injunction.

Should NTP’s claim be upheld in the US, it could try to enforce its patent claim in European courts.

The dispute centres on five specific patents for email transmission, named the Campana patents after their late inventor Thomas Campana. When he died in June 2004, the patents were acquired by NTP, a company owned by Campana’s former lawyer. NTP claims that RIM uses the Campana patents unlawfully in BlackBerry devices.

Analyst firm Gartner has advised businesses to stop buying BlackBerrys until RIM extracts itself from the ongoing court battle – “stop or delay all mission critical BlackBerry deployments and investments in the platform until RIM’s legal position is clarified.”

It’s unlikely that RIM will be forced to shut up shop. It’s a $2bn company, after all, and a acceptable settlement should be feasible. If not, RIM is reported to have a technical workaround that bypasses the patents.

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