Joff Wild

Envision IP has been doing some analysis of the BlackBerry patent portfolio in the wake of the announcement that the company is reviewing its strategic options, something that may lead to it being sold in whole or in part, delisted or divesting certain of its assets. Having done their number-crunching the Envision team conclude that:

BlackBerry’s patent application filing trends show that the company has continued its focus on R&D and innovation, and it has not slowed in its patenting activity. Given the resources BlackBerry continues to devote to obtaining patents on its technology, we anticipate BlackBerry will carefully explore its IP licensing and enforcement options to generate further revenue from its patent portfolio. While a sale in-part or whole of its patent portfolio may be an option, we believe that aggressive licensing and monetization may provide for a beneficial long-term revenue model for BlackBerry.

If the BlackBerry portfolio is as valuable as some have claimed it to be (including a leading Canadian bank, which changed its valuation on the basis of research published in IAM), then a much stronger focus on enforcement would seem to be an attractive option. The problem with this, though, is that the company seems to have ruled out at least one of the ways in which aggressive licensing programmes can effectively be put in place. As this blog observed last month, in April BlackBerry joined Google, Red Hat and Earthlink in submitting a document to the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission which urged them to undertake an investigation into the activities of patent privateers. “So-called “privateering” amplifies the threat to innovation and competition already posed by PAEs … Privateering poses numerous perils to competition, consumers and innovation,” the document stated.

Whether these claims are true or not is open to debate. However, what is clear is that in transferring portfolios to third parties, or in exclusively licensing enforcement rights to them, operating companies can reduce their exposure to risk and save a great deal of time and money, while continuing to share in the upside of successful deal-making. If you are a company with a high-quality portfolio and a small in-house department which lacks the means or the inclination to devote the resources necessary to running a big licensing operation, outsourcing is the obvious solution. But if you have described such an arrangement as a threat to innovation and competition doing so is somewhat problematic, to say the least.

It does make you wonder who at Blackberry made the decision to be so vociferously opposed to the privateering model in the first place and how much internal consultation there was before the company’s signature was added to the document the DoJ and FTC were sent. But putting that to one side, the upshot of it all must be that if Blackberry is to be consistent, in terms of maximising the value of the patent portfolio it may be better off in some other operating company’s hands – one which has not ruled out privateering as an option and/or which has a sizeable in-house licensing team. There are a few of these around, so BlackBerry does have options. And, again, if the portfolio is as valuable as has been claimed, you’d expect that there would be plenty of interest.