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RIM co-chief executive officers Mike Lazardis, left, and Jim Balsillie are accusing a San Diego lawyer and his firm of defamation.

As if Research In Motion Ltd. didn't have other things to worry about. But before its fortunes plunged, lawyers for the Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry maker quietly launched an $11-million defamation lawsuit against a California lawyer in November, 2010.

According to documents filed in Ontario Superior Court, RIM and its co-chief executive officers, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, accuse San Diego lawyer Amar Thakur and his firm, Foley & Lardner LLP, of defamation for comments Mr. Thakur made to the news media that summer.

Mr. Thakur is a lawyer for a California company called Mformation Technologies Inc., which is locked in a legal battle over patents with RIM. Mformation accuses RIM of infringing patents for systems designed to manage mobile devices, a claim RIM denies.

According to documents filed in court by RIM in its defamation suit, Mr. Thakur told a San Diego reporter in August, 2010, that "we believe that the decision (to infringe) was made at the highest level," and that BlackBerry's profits "are highly attributable to what is covered by my client's patents."

RIM also alleges Mr. Thakur told a reporter from Law360, a U.S. legal news website, that the "CEOs may not have been involved in the day-to-day negotiations, but we're confident that the key decisions with respect to our client's relationship with RIM were made at the CEO level." None of the allegations have been proved in court.

The two sides were in court in Toronto last week to set dates. A RIM spokesman on Tuesday said the company does not usually comment on litigation.

In court documents, lawyers for Mr. Thakur and his law firm say the case should be thrown out. They say Ontario does not have jurisdiction. They also accuse RIM of "forum shopping," in an attempt to avoid California's rules against so-called SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), thus depriving the defendants of California's "protections for free speech."

Toronto lawyer William McDowell of Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP is acting for the defendants. He would say little about the case, but said the outcome could be affected by two imminent Supreme Court of Canada rulings on libel law.

One is former newspaper tycoon Conrad Black's libel case against Richard Breeden, the former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission head appointed as an adviser to independent Hollinger directors that investigated the company's finances.

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