BlackBerry Fans Cringe at Talk of a Disconnect; Patent Infringement Could Require the Company to Halt Service in the United States

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Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

They're one of the high-tech world's hottest properties, so addictive some users refer to themselves as "CrackBerry addicts."

But the popular handheld communication devices are in danger of being silenced, and that has Northeast Florida customers -- who are among the 3.65 million nationwide -- worried.

A legal entanglement between the maker of BlackBerry and the company whose patent the wireless device was found to have infringed is at the heart of the issue. A federal court has rejected a $450 million settlement and could require the company to stop service in the United States.

"It's my leash," Jacksonville City Council President Kevin Hyde said. "You are never out of communication. I've been using one since they first came out seven or eight years ago, and I am scared to death the court could rule against them."

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has resumed settlement discussions with NTP Inc., according to The Associated Press, but analysts think it could take as much as $1 billion to reach an accord.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office has a few BlackBerry devices that are used by officers who need to be on the move and yet keep in touch with e-mail, said Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, public information coordinator.

"I am talking to you right now on a BlackBerry," he said. "It allows me to be able to respond to reporters' questions whether I am in my car on the way to the scene of an incident or in a movie theater with my family."

Mulligan said his BlackBerry is a combination cell phone, e-mail service and a two-way radio type of communications device to talk with other agencies.

"To me it is a vital tool," Mulligan said.

Peggy Campbell, a legal assistant for more than 20 years, has been working for attorney Sean Cronin at the Spohrer Wilner law firm for four years and her office computer is hooked up to Cronin's BlackBerry.

"It is an absolutely fantastic piece of equipment," Campbell said. "It allows him to be immediately in touch with me no matter where he is. If he is at a deposition and needs certain records, he will instant message me for them, and I can send the information he wants right to him. …