BlackBerry PlayBookIn what is an all too common occurrence in the tech world, the sound technology company Dolby has filed a patent lawsuit against Research In Motion (RIM), the company best known for its line of BlackBerry phones.  If the audio company gets its way, the sale of certain BlackBerry devices could be halted, but I wouldn’t get in a panic just yet.

The lawsuit stems from the use of the High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding (“HE AAC”) codec, something that has been incorporated into BlackBerry phones and the PlayBook tablet for music playback.  It is a common feature in numerous electronic devices, but before a company can use it they have to pay a licensing fee to Dolby.  According to the lawsuit RIM failed to do so, but there is no indication how far back this lack of payments dates back.

Due to the lack of payments, the lawsuit was filed both in the United States and Germany against the Canadian manufacturer to recover financial damages and halt sales of the infringing products.  “Litigation was regrettably our last resort after RIM declined to pay for the use of Dolby’s technology,” said Andy Sherman, executive vice president and general counsel of Dolby. “We have a duty to protect our intellectual property.”

Considering the length of time RIM has incorporated the AAC codec, one has to wonder why Dolby is only now calling the phone manufacturer on this.  Did RIM only just now stop paying the licensing fees, or did they just not notice they were using it?  As for the potential halting of sales of the infringing products, the likelihood of that is fairly low.  Judges don’t typically grant injunctions during the litigation, and these types of cases are almost always settled out of court via a lump sum payment and an agreement to pay the licensing fee going forward.  Sure it sounds scary, but history shows us that this hardly ever happens in reality.

You do have to wonder how situations like this come about.  Did someone at RIM just simply file the paperwork incorrectly?  Did they think it was somehow in the public domain?  Or did someone just think no one would ever notice?  We’ll probably never know for sure, but it is one of those things that always makes you scratch your head a bit.

What do you think of the situation between Dolby and RIM?