BlackBerry’s Secret Weapon In a Selloff: Patents

BlackBerry 10 has failed to radically reverse BlackBerry’s fortunes.

It’s no secret that BlackBerry is in very serious trouble.

Research firm Gartner recently placed BlackBerry’s share of the global smartphone market at 2.7 percent in the second quarter of 2013, down from 5.2 percent in the same quarter last year; that placed it behind not only Google Android and Apple’s iOS, but also Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

Nearly simultaneous to Gartner unveiling those numbers, BlackBerry’s Board of Directors announced the founding of a Special Committee to explore what it called “strategic alternatives to enhance value and increase scale,” which included the possibility of selling the whole company to a third party.

Earlier this year, BlackBerry bet heavily that its BlackBerry 10 operating system, coupled with a new generation of high-quality devices, would reverse its downward spiral. That was the wrong bet: the devices failed to become blockbuster hits, and BlackBerry 10—while boasting some interesting features—failed to shake up a market dominated by Android and iOS.

But things aren’t quite pitch-black for BlackBerry, despite the constant drumbeat of bad news from all corners of the Internet. Indeed, should the company sell itself off, or partner in some configuration with another tech firm, it has a very powerful trump card to play: its extensive patent portfolio.

According to The Wall Street Journal, analysts at Scotiabank estimate BlackBerry’s patents at a “big chunk” of the company’s overall $5.5 billion valuation. “We have been suggesting a value of roughly $2.25 billion based on a discount to what was paid for the Nortel patents, given the sale of those patents occurred at a particularly opportune time,” the bank wrote, according to the newspaper. “Given that BlackBerry maintains roughly 5,136 patents, to get to our $2.25 billion number the patents would have to sell for $438k each.”

The Journal suggests that Scotiabank’s number is conservative, if anything. Even if the valuation is accurate, however, it could give BlackBerry some significant ammunition—certainly more than most people think—if it heads into sales negotiations with another firm.


Image: BlackBerry