Judge Allows BlackBerry Service to Continue -- for Now

BlackBerry service won't be turned off, after a judge today declined to order an immediate shutdown of millions of the devices. But the troubles are far from over for the handheld device's maker, Research In Motion, in the ongoing copyright infringement fight.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer, hearing the case in a Richmond, Va., courtroom, was just postponing a decision on an injunction requested by another company that owns patents to a system the judge said RIM had been found to be infringing on. Spencer said he would make a decision on an injunction "as soon as reasonably possible."

The reprieve for RIM comes as the most recent development in the five-year battle between a tiny patent holder, NTP Inc., and RIM, a battle that began when RIM introduced its BlackBerry system.

Though NTP owned patents to a system that could send messages from computers to wireless devices, the company never actually developed a system. When RIM, which is based in Waterloo, Ontario, started producing BlackBerrys in 2001, NTP launched a lawsuit.

A jury sided with NTP in 2002 and awarded the small Virginia company 5.7 percent of U.S. BlackBerry sales, which a judge later increased to 8.55 percent. A federal judge issued an injunction in 2003 but held off on enforcement during RIM's appeals, which largely failed.

During the hearing today, NTP asked Spencer to impose an injunction on the service but permit a 30-day grace period so all sides could work out the details of how to exempt government and emergency workers from the service blackout, among other issues.

The Arlington, Va.-based company also recommended that the judge immediately halt sales of new BlackBerry devices and award it $126 million in damages -- for starters. RIM has deposited $250 million or more in escrow, and NTP says that pot of money should be reserved just in case newer BlackBerry devices infringe on its patents.

"This is a self-inflicted situation," said NTP attorney James H. Wallace Jr. "It's just time to pay up."

RIM attorney Henry Bunsow argued that the injunction would not be in the public's best interests, because of the difficulties of working out how to exempt government and emergency from the blackout.

"It will take a lot of time," Bunsow said. "It will take a lot of effort."

Without issuing a timeline, Spencer said he would rule as soon as possible, adding that, if he ordered an injunction, he would make sure that the government's needs were met.

In its defense, RIM's attorneys noted that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is poised to finally reject all patents at the heart of the case. Spencer previously had said he was unwilling to delay his proceedings while awaiting a decision from the agency, the faster response from the patent office have some attorneys wondering whether the judge will change his mind.

"I really feel it's too close to call," said Stephen Maebius, a Washington patent attorney not involved in the case. "I can really see it going both ways."

Analysts say BlackBerry users shouldn't be too worried they will be left unable to communicate -- they believe RIM could still settle for as much as $1 billion. And due to the legal proceedings, RIM has said it would introduce new software that would not violate NTP's patents.

ABC News' Keith Garvin, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.