Enterprises should halt business-critical deployments of BlackBerry devices and investments until its maker, Research In Motion, clarifies its legal position with regards to its patent tussle with NTP, Gartner is advising.
The market research and consulting firm issued its recommendation after a federal judge's decision last week opened the door to a possible injunction that would stop sales of BlackBerry mobile e-mail devices, and shut down BlackBerry service, in the U.S.
Judge James Spencer of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia last week denied RIM's motion to enforce an agreement with NTP to settle the case. He also refused a RIM motion to stop the court proceedings in NTP's patent lawsuit against it while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office re-examines NTP's patents.
The judge ruled that the settlement agreement reached in March between the companies is unenforceable and that his court can't suspend the case during a patent re-examination that could take years.
As a result, four Gartner analysts published a research brief on Monday alerting current and prospective enterprise RIM customers to "stop or delay all mission-critical BlackBerry deployments and investments in the platform until RIM's legal position is clarified."
Gartner is also advising customers to pressure RIM into making public its work-around plans for preventing disruption to its service while bypassing the patents in question.
Another option Gartner says enterprises can consider is to migrate critical BlackBerry-based applications to another platform, such as laptops with wireless cards.
Deborah Maguire, executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic caucus, is concerned about a possible disruption in the BlackBerry service. She and her team support Democratic Party senators and other staffers. Those users have had BlackBerry devices for the past year, and a service blackout would be unacceptable.
"I don’t think I could do my job as efficiently as I do it now if I didn’t have my BlackBerry, and I know that goes for a lot of the senators as well," she said. "The senators receive e-mail from their constituents on a regular basis and it makes life easier if they can handle them at any time."
Maguire is keeping an eye on the situation, and already has a backup plan set up. In the event of a service interruption, she would go back to the platform from Notify Technology she moved away from when she adopted the BlackBerry system.
Having a backup plan is always a good idea, even at times when there is no specific problem with a platform, said Allen Nogee, an analyst from consulting and market research firm In-Stat.
IT directors with BlackBerry deployments should be in close touch with RIM, and inquiring about the vendor's latest contingency plans, he said.
However, Nogee believes it is unlikely that the dispute between RIM and NTP will end up in a BlackBerry outage. "If that happens, no one gains. It would be a lose-lose situation, and that doesn't make sense," he said.
Even if RIM and NTP couldn't work things out and the situation reached a breaking point, the BlackBerry service would probably not be turned off from one day to the next, Nogee said. In that case, it's very possible that the service would be allowed to continue for a few months before pulling its plug, he said.
RIM didn't return repeated requests for comment placed via phone and e-mail through its public-relations agency Brodeur.