Monday, March 20, 2006

Lessons learned from the NTP-RIM dust-up

Computerworld writes an article on what lesson can be learned by IT managers now that the NTP/Research in Motion patent battle is over.

Jack Gold at J. Gold Associates said, "The first lesson learned is don’t panic. Markets have a way of adjusting without massive disruptions of service." Gold also "urged managers to remember that anytime a company buys into a proprietary service, it risks problems if the supplier goes defunct. And he stressed that companies should have workable contingencies in place." Gold said, "Not having a contingency plan is a dangerous position to be in."

Ken Dulaney at Gartner advised that "even before asking a potential vendor for a guarantee, IT managers should ask a series of tough questions before signing off on deals." Dulaney suggested asking "whether the patents are pending or have already been granted." He said, "The only reason they mention patents, usually, is to try to impress you."

Dulaney added, that IT should also "ask whether a vendor has been to court over a patent." He said, "I’d discount their claims about a patent totally until they’ve been to court" and have won the right to the patent there.

Dulaney added, "Anytime you purchase a vital product you must ask: ‘Has anybody notified you that you are in violation on your patent?’ Or better, ‘Do you expect anybody to say you are in violation?’ That kind of question is becoming important as part of [the IT manager’s] valuation of technology. That’s what NTP vs. RIM taught us."

Both Dulaney and Gold agreed that the "U.S. patent process failed miserably. Gold said, “There’s a huge need for patent reform. The patent system in the U.S. is broken.”

Dulaney concurred saying the U.S. patent process is “woefully broken.” Dulaney said, "The U.S. Patent Office has to ensure that the technology under consideration hasn’t happened before and the likelihood of being sure is less and less as more and more patents are filed around the world."

Dulaney pointed out that "in many other countries, a patent office will ask for outside comment" with "many more eyeballs looking for prior art. We’re placing too much of a work burden on our patent office.”

Gold commented that "IT managers need to keep users and company executives informed about what’s happening with the technology, so they don’t rely on unreliable outside information." Gold said, "No offense, but I read some really bad press reports on this case."

I'm sure enterprises learned a painful, time-consuming lesson, when they had to scramble and burn precious cycles to come up with a contingency plan in case RIM's Blackberry service was shut down. It didn't help that RIM wasn't being very suppportive of its customers during the process.

The bigger question is whether RIM learned anything from the whole fiasco. If they drop the hubris and starting treating their enterprise customers better then maybe it will be a $612.5 million lesson that was well-learned.....