Google, SAP and Cisco are among a number of technology companies interested in buying up portions — or all — of BlackBerry’s business, according to Reuters, which cites several sources close to the matter. BlackBerry has also apparently asked for preliminary expressions from Intel, LG and Samsung, by early next week. Portions of the business of most interest to potential technology buyers are BlackBerry’s secure server network and patent portfolio, according to the sources.
None of the companies named by Reuters provided comment on its report.
Other tech companies, including Microsoft, Huawei and Lenovo, are notably absent from the list of prospective buyers. Redmond unsurprisingly so; despite being previously linked with a possible BlackBerry bid, Microsoft is now tied up with its own $7.2 billion bid for Nokia’s Devices & Services business. Meanwhile Chinese telco Huawei has faced difficulties in the North American market over national security concerns about links to the Chinese military — likely making a bid for a company that supplies phones to government officials a difficult sell.
An enterprise-focused bidder — such as SAP or Cisco — might make the best fit for BlackBerry’s security-focused messaging handset business at this point, with the consumer smartphone marketplace now primarily centred on Android and iOS. That said, the BYOD trend has been steadily eroding BlackBerry’s enterprise reach, so even here its appeal is increasingly niche. (Albeit, it does have its own mobile device management software that seeks to tap the BYOD trend, with the ability to manage iPhones, Android-powered devices and BlackBerrys).
Late last month, days before BlackBerry reported a $965 million quarterly loss (due mostly to a writedown on unsold Z10 devices), it signed a letter of intent to go private. Its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings, is the prospective buyer, tabling a $4.7 billion bid for the company.
Going private also opens up the possibility that a new owner might look to break up the company and sell off its constituent parts, although Fairfax claims it has no plans to do so. But, according to Reuters, BlackBerry is actively shopping itself around to potential strategic buyers anyway — as an alternative to the Fairfax deal. That deal, which values the company at $9 per share, has faced some skepticism from financial analysts — who believe a $7 per share price is more realistic — which may explain why BlackBerry is apparently looking elsewhere now.
Technology buyers are not the only potential bidders for the BlackBerry pie, with private-equity firms also asking the company to provide additional financial details about its various business segments, according to two of Reuters’ sources. However they said BlackBerry is currently focused on taking bids from industry peers.
Despite Google et al apparently agreeing to talk, it’s unclear how much serious interest there is in buying BlackBerry or which, if any, parties will bid. Potential bidders are apparently proceeding with caution, given the level of uncertainty around BlackBerry’s business and questions over the future value of its business assets.
Google’s interest is likely to be in BlackBerry’s patent portfolio. Android has faced renewed legal attacks in recent weeks, with Nokia’s lawyers scoring a preliminary win against HTC‘s Android-powered One flagship device in the U.S. last week. Google’s 2011 acquisition of Motorola was also widely touted as a patent-focused purchase aimed at bolstering Android’s IP defences. So it’s due diligence for Mountain View to at least take a closer look at BlackBerry’s patents. Samsung may also be eyeing those.
However, Reuters notes that the value of BlackBerry’s patent portfolio and licensing agreements is diminishing rapidly — likely to halve over the next 18 months. Which may temper any interest there.
BlackBerry’s patents are estimated to be worth between $2 billion and $3 billion, and its security-focused messaging system services business is likely worth $3 billion to $4.5 billion. The company also has $3.1 billion in cash and investments — however with revenues sliding and more loss-making quarters looming, that cash is going to get eaten up pretty quickly. Reuters cites Bernstein analyst Pierre Ferragu’s prediction that the company will burn through almost $2 billion over the next year and a half.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry’s long-touted plan to extend the reach of its consumer mobile messaging service, BBM, to Android and iOS — perhaps with the hope of creating another business asset it could shop around to buyers — has stalled.
BBM was initially slated to launch on the new platforms globally late last month but the rollout was halted after a leaked version of the Android .apk overloaded its servers. The company has since said it remains committed to launching BBM on Android and iOS but given no new timeframe for when this will happen. In the event, it may be that BlackBerry’s bits get broken up and sold off before BBM is able to make the leap onto other platforms.