Jack Ellis

Rumours abound that RIM has been negotiating a licensing deal – or even a total buy-out – with competitors in the smartphone business.

Despite some less than flattering evaluations of the quality of its patent portfolio, RIM undeniably maintains some highly valuable assets. Go to any conference or seminar and you will likely still see BlackBerrys outnumbering any other type of mobile phone, and that must count for something. RIM’s flagship product is still hugely popular in the face of huge competition, and BlackBerry OS is the software that runs 11% of the world’s smartphones. In light of this, it is difficult to agree with suggestions that RIM could survive in the long term as a leader in the smartphone space by dropping BlackBerry OS (its biggest success, and a feature that differentiates it from its Android-addled competitors) altogether, in favour of a rival operating system.

As confidence in RIM wanes and the economy becomes more inhospitable each day, the Canadian company needs to find some way of halting its slide towards oblivion – and it needs to find it soon. 

It’s easy to see why other smartphone manufacturers might be keen to seize on the continuing popularity of BlackBerry OS; 11% of the global market is no mean share. For Samsung - at the centre of recent takeover rumours, which it has denied – and other companies, a licence to use BlackBerry software and the associated brand could provide a key differentiator in the increasingly commoditised Android marketplace. And for RIM, of course, come the potentially huge returns of linking up with wireless device manufacturers that shift far more units than it does.

RIM built its success on a hugely popular product, but after several years of market dominance, was eclipsed by more innovative offerings from other companies. During the good years, RIM was not involved in any major IP deals and failed to develop any kind of multi-faceted IP strategy. In not considering other avenues which could have brought value to the business, RIM has found itself in dire straits of late; and things could quickly get worse – just look at Kodak, which may have developed its last reel due, in part, to its lack of a focused IP strategy while still a going concern. However, if the rumours and speculation have any truth in them, there may still be time for RIM to save its own skin.

BlackBerry handsets and PlayBook tablets may soon become a thing of the past, but by realising the value of its significant pool of intellectual assets, RIM could ensure its survival for a long time yet.