Sometimes you can’t win for losing.
Late last year, I was looking at trading up from my beloved “Zoolander” Samsung a530. I went to a local Verizon store to examine the current offerings. As I looked at the new Research in Motion BlackBerry 7130e, two customers in the space of five minutes walked up to me and told me not to get a BlackBerry. The first conversation went something like this:
“Don’t get one of those,” my new special friend sneered.
“Why not?” I asked, “Did you have a bad experience?”
“No, they’re fantastic–work great for email.”
“You didn’t like the phone itself?” I asked.
“It’s a little big for a call; great for sending messages.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“BlackBerry is going out of business next week,” the person said.
“Uh, I don’t think so,” I offered gently. “They are still fighting in court. I hear they even have a workaround if things go bad.”
“No, they’re gone. I’m getting the new Windows Treo when it’s released.”
With that, the person walked away and out of the store.
Sometimes lawyers can fall into the trap of looking at business issues solely in legal terms. We read the latest updates on a dispute, and note with precision how a matter could go on appeal or a retrial. In the BlackBerry imbroglio, we can discern how NTP seems to be gaining the upper hand in court, and yet observe that RIM seems to have the USPTO on its side.
But most current or future BlackBerry customers don’t live in our legal world. They live in a different place. It’s called reality. And there the message that’s being pushed out is that the BlackBerry network is in real danger of being shut down. Maybe soon.
Now I’m a JD, not an MBA, but I have a hunch that this perception can’t be good for BlackBerry.
NTP knows this, and that’s why they are putting the screws to RIM. And RIM’s senior management is very smart, and at some point have to view a distasteful settlement as potentially better than a drawn-out “victory” that results in a consistent drumbeat of IP (and thus network) vulnerability. (See The Economist for an excellent viewpoint).
A GC who has been through a bet-the-company dispute will likely tell you that it’s invigorating for awhile–who doesn’t want to be on the legal cutting edge for months or years on end, and see your every move recounted in the news? (One side benefit is that your outside counsel will probably send you a holiday fruitcake).
But what that same GC sees after a while is that they are counsel to a business that exists to serve customers. And the longer customers hear news of a major legal problem, they may start to look elsewhere before spending serious dollars. And let’s not dismiss the Mystery Shopper’s comments as consumer drivel about what is really an enterprise product–even the higher-end markets are starting to get jumpy.
I’d buy a BlackBerry today, even without a settlement (which I expect in the next few months). But I’m not a normal person. I’m a lawyer.
Update (12 Jan 06): The WSJ reports ($) on RIM’s troubles with a story entitled “Bye-Bye BlackBerrys?” Ouch. Mentioned therein is that law firm Dechert LLP is doing a demo using handhelds from HP, that use software from Good Technology via Cingular.