Las Vegas Realtor Gayle Brandt spent all day Wednesday laboriously copying voluminous files from her BlackBerry to her personal computer thanks to a lawsuit. And she isn’t happy about it.
Brandt and other BlackBerry-addicted agents are caught in the crossfire of a legal action against Research in Motion, the company that created the popular mobile device.
Virginia-based NTP is suing RIM for allegedly using some of its patented technology, and could shut down the approximately 4 million Blackberries used nationally if granted an injunction by the court.
“I would be up a creek if my BlackBerry shuts down,” said Brandt.
Like many agents, Brandt uses the device, which has a small keyboard that replicates that of a PC, for getting leads in the field, as well as communicating with clients and prospects via e-mail. But Brandt also stores escrow numbers, names of escrow officers and closing dates for all her properties on her Blackberry.
“I’m really hoping and praying they resolve this. I can’t believe they would put that many peoples’ communication in jeopardy,” said Brandt.
The Realtor won’t lose her data, because it’s stored independently of the phone service, Brandt said. But it’s still a drag having to copy it in case she must buy a new phone.
“I’ve had it (the BlackBerry) two years. I don’t even know what’s out there any more,” said Brandt. “I don’t like the Treo (another mobile device). I was hearing about another device today that I guess is pretty good, a Palm instrument through Verizon. I don’t have a plan, but I’m thinking I’d better get one pretty soon,” the Realtor said.
NTP is suing because, the company claims, RIM is using some of its patented technology. RIM denies the charge, but has been losing in court, and on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear RIM’s appeal. NTP can now seek an injunction ordering RIM to stop using the disputed technology, which would shut down Blackberry service.
Another possible development: RIM could settle with NTP, avoiding a blackout.
“It would affect me greatly” if BlackBerry shut down, said Keith Cockrell, a Realtor at the Nellis Group at RE/MAX Allegiance in Burke, Va.
“We have our desktop e-mail forwarding to our BlackBerries,” said Cockrell. “I would miss the real-time update, getting e-mail on a timely basis.”
Because the Realtor also does marketing for the firm, he’s out of the office a lot, he said, and hence even more dependent on the mobile device.
“They (clients) can still call me on my cell phone if I don’t have the BlackBerry. But 10 e-mails as opposed to 10 phone calls are a lot easier to deal with. People are more concise in e-mail. Two minutes on an e-mail will save you five minutes on the phone,” Cockrell said. “BlackBerries speed up response time and make it easier to communicate with people.”
His company hasn’t yet settled on a backup plan, Cockrell said.
A Maryland Realtor and BlackBerry enthusiast was in the same boat as Cockrell.
Eric Stewart, who works with Llewellyn Realtors in Rockville, Md., and has been a Realtor for 18 years, has more than 770 addresses and names stored on his device.
“I can tell you I have no plan,” Stewart said in an e-mail message.
In a statement, RIM emphasized that no injunction is yet in force, adding that if one were to be put in place, it’s “far from clear” whether existing customers would be affected.
For new customers, RIM has software workarounds that are ready to be put in place if necessary, according to Mark Guibert, vice president of corporate marketing for the company.
A “workaround” is a method, sometimes used temporarily, for achieving a task or goal when the usual or planned method isn’t working; high-tech mavens would call it a temporary fix or bypass of a problem in a system.
“Workarounds are a legitimate strategy respected by the courts, so RIM would be fully entitled to alter its software with a non-infringing workaround and continue shipping,” Guibert said.
“Even if an injunction were granted and even if it applied to existing users, a grace period would allow time for customers to install the necessary software update to allow continued service,” the statement claimed.
“NTP has suggested a 30-day grace period, but RIM would present the courts with facts and arguments that warrant a longer grace period.”
RIM is optimistic about its chances of prevailing in the situation, saying that in addition to the court action, the Patent Office is continuing reexaminations and that the office rejected the NTP patents.
Nevertheless, some observers have opined that RIM may be motivated to settle to prevent its customers from switching to competitors should the Blackberries get cut off.
Sprint’s new mobile broadband phone, released in September, can access the multiple listing service, take and send photos, give directions and create documents on a keyboard – feature that lend themselves nicely to agents’ needs. Treos are also popular with real estate professionals.
Until the matter is resolved, agents are biting their nails – and backing up their data. Given that most of them use their opposable digits when typing on the BlackBerry, perhaps the best way to sum up the situation is to say they’re keeping their thumbs crossed.
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