[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Mobile e-mail minnow stalks big beasts
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News business reporter

Amid a jungle of cutting-edge technology, the brutality of modern corporate warfare is outdone only by its complexity.

Brian Bogosian, chief executive, Visto
Mr Bogosian is not shy about his firm's achievements

It is a world of charm offensives to win the hearts and minds of footloose customers, punctuated by fierce legal battles.

And it is here that Brian Bogosian plies his trade.

Like any good officer, Mr Bogosian spends a lot of time in the field talking to his troops, working out the battle plans, preparing the next attack.

And where Mr Bogosian's forces are on the prowl, nobody, not even the biggest of beasts, should feel safe.

Reluctant or desperate?

Although a minnow amongst giants, Mr Bogosian's company - mobile e-mail firm Visto, a partner of the likes of Nokia and Vodafone with 400 staff in 10 countries - is also nimble.

We view Visto's actions as desperate
Scotia Capital analyst Gus Papageorgiou

Fresh from a recent legal victory against rival Seven Networks - which was recently ordered by a Texan judge to pay $3.6m (1.92m) following a patent infringement case - Visto's lawyers are taking aim at no less than six companies, including the world's biggest software company.

Leaning back in a deep leather chair at an Italian boutique hotel in London, Mr Bogosian solemnly enumerates the targets of his active lawsuits - including Microsoft, [the Blackberry founder] Research In Motion and Good Technology.

It is a multi-flank strategy that has won Visto a reputation as an "all-guns-blazing" kind of company - in spite of Mr Bogosian's self-righteous insistence that his company has been "reluctantly drawn into this".

"This is a company that is clearly targeting everybody in its space," says Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive of Research in Motion, or RIM as it is commonly known, a defendant in one of Visto's suits. "It's a brazen strategy to sue absolutely everybody."

Some industry analysts, too, are shaking their heads.

"Visto is spreading itself quite thin going up against well-financed opponents such as RIM and Microsoft, in addition to a handful of smaller companies," says Scotia Capital analyst Gus Papageorgiou.

"We view Visto's actions as desperate."

Patent infringements

Mr Bogosian's response appears almost whimsical.

Visto's intellectual property serves as the basis for this industry's birth
Visto chief executive Brian Bogosian

"Analysts are like doctors, right?" he says.

"You go to three and you're gonna get three different opinions."

The way Mr Bogosian sees it, Visto is up against great forces that have done more than merely grab what he deems unreasonably large chunks of a fertile market for technology to push e-mails automatically to mobile phones.

They have also, he insists, taken what is his.

And now he wants it back.

"They've misappropriated our technology," he mutters, gritting his teeth. "They have copied what we invented."

In other words, Mr Bogosian seems convinced that this is a case of a mouse giving birth to an elephant.

"Visto's intellectual property serves as the basis for this industry's birth," Mr Bogosian says.

War chest

In spite of such lofty claims, many expect Visto's legal struggles - which have seen it become the second firm to try to prevent RIM from selling its Blackberry in the US - to go up in smoke.

Blackberry user at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona
Visto is keen to prevent RIM from selling its Blackberry in the US

"In the end, we believe RIM can win this battle," says Mr Papageorgiou.

But intellectual property lawyer Steven Lieberman of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbech, is not so sure.

He has found that more than 80% of cases that go to trial in the Eastern District of Texas, Visto's court of choice, are decided in favour of the plaintiff.

"So, at least at the trial level, Visto would appear to have a high chance of success," he says, in an interview with Reuters.

Still, these sorts of trials often go on for a long time.

And Visto may not be able to pick its battles. Both Seven and RIM have signalled potential countersuits, hinting at a trend which - if it was to escalate - would quickly eat into even the best-stocked war chest.

Visto's is not small: last year the company raised $70m from venture capitalists to pay for product investment, field investment and - last but not least - legal fees.

Yet, it is a frustrating process, acknowledges Mr Bogosian, not least given the large sums the company has already paid to secure its 30 existing patents - all of which relate to the areas of synchronisation, remote access and security.

"These are all our inventions," says Mr Bogosian.

"We have patents we've filed everywhere just to get ownership of our own inventions."

A giant in the making

The size and potential value of Visto's intellectual property vault has sparked speculation about whether Mr Bogosian is operating with more than one battle plan.

Could it be that Visto is simply trying to milk its patents for what they are worth - whether through out-of-court settlements that could run into millions of dollars, or by doing deals with its adversaries?

Not so, insists Mr Bogosian.

"When you have inventions like we have, you have to stand up for them," he says.

But he adds: "If the defendants want to discuss this, we'll certainly discuss it.

"We're fair and reasonable people. There certainly would be situations where we'd consider licensing arrangements."

Mr Bogosian is also dismissive of suggestions that its David-and-Goliath onslaughts amount to little more than public relations stunt, aimed at getting onto investors' radars ahead of a flotation of its shares planned for 12 to 18 months' time.

Even so, intentional or not, Visto's actions have attracted attention.

It would be churlish to underestimate Mr Bogosian's ability to parade his company's skills, assets and ambitions in front of well-resourced investors willing to take a punt.

And that could mean much bigger game afoot for the mouse that roared.

Blackberry wins stay of execution
24 Feb 06 |  Business
Minor victory for Blackberry firm
23 Feb 06 |  Business
Blackberry plan to avoid shutdown
09 Feb 06 |  Business
Washington steps in on Blackberry
02 Feb 06 |  Business
Patent worries fail to dent RIM
22 Dec 05 |  Business
Court blow for Blackberry maker
30 Nov 05 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific