Research in Motion (RIM) has begun its appeal against a patent infringement suit that saw a jury in 2002 order the company to hand over $54 million in damages.

RIM's popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device was found to have infringed upon patents held by NTP for a wireless communications system, but the company is questioning the decision in federal appeals court.

The appeal centers around what it claims were procedural errors by the District Court of Virginia, including the misinterpretation of NTP's patents and the relevance of US patents to a system partially contained in Canada.

Tom Campana developed a wireless communications system for his pager company that he later patented, and the BlackBerry infringes upon that patent, said James Wallace, an attorney with Wiley Rein & Fielding, representing NTP. NTP was incorporated to hold Campana's patents, and does not make any products or provide any services, he said.

RIM's lawyers argued that Campana's wireless communications systems only allowed users to read and print e-mail, while the BlackBerry allows users to reply and forward corporate e-mail on a wireless handheld device, RIM said in its brief. The district court improperly interpreted this and other aspects of the patent claims as broader than specified in that patent, the company said.

"Under a proper claim construction and statutory interpretation, the accused products and services avoid infringement as a matter of law," RIM argued in its brief. RIM also said that since a key component of its wireless e-mail system resides in Canada, US patent law does not apply.

NTP asked the appeals court to uphold the lower court's ruling and enforce the injunction on sales of the Blackberry imposed by the lower court, Wallace said. "In a transparent attempt to manufacture a defense to NTP's overwhelming infringement case, RIM now seeks to obscure the invention claimed in the Campana patents; to burden NTP's claims with unstated and unjustified limitations; to evade infringement by locating in Canada a single component of the BlackBerry System widely sold and used in the United States; and to quibble with the District Court's fully-justified evidentiary rulings," NTP said in its response to RIM's brief.

A panel of three judges will now decide whether to grant the appeal, Wallace said. The process could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months.

RIM hasn't been beyond using patents itself. Also in 2002, RIM laid several lawsuits on rival Good claiming it infringed four of its patents. The issue was only decided in March this year after Good paid RIM an undisclosed sum.