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BlackBerry's patent portfolio is wireless trove for acquirer

BlackBerry Ltd.'s patent portfolio holds two key allures for any acquirer: security and basic wireless technologies.

[WASHINGTON] BlackBerry Ltd.'s patent portfolio holds two key allures for any acquirer: security and basic wireless technologies.

Those are among the prime pieces of intellectual property held by the Waterloo, Ontario-based mobile-technology company. BlackBerry, which redefined what a phone could do more than a decade ago, has a combination of older patents on the basic functioning of a mobile phone, as well as newer ones on security and on consumer-friendly features such as the predictive typing on a keyboard or setting up meeting schedules.

That's a treasure trove for any potential buyer because security is becoming more important to companies that are trying to avoid the type of hacking that struck Sony Corp. last year, in which numerous e-mails and personal information of employees were disclosed. Many of BlackBerry's patents underlie the fast-growing mobile industry, where lawsuits over basic technologies have been abundant.

For Samsung, more patents could also help winnow down any money it might have to pay Apple Inc. in the long-running smartphone wars. The companies have dropped all litigation outside the US, with two US appeals court cases pending that would help determine the value of patents on unique features of complex devices. Some of the BlackBerry patented features and operating system could also contribute to a licensing deal.

Patent Builder BlackBerry typically ranks in the top 75 annual patent recipients, obtaining 500 to 1,000 patents every year on improvements to its mobile devices, according to US Patent and Trademark Office figures.

Among the patents it received just this month are ones that cover secure message handling, a new type of keyboard, and smartphones that can measure magnetic fields and e-mail filters. Other recent patents include ones for a display that's less likely to shatter when dropped, allowing the collaborative editing of media on different devices, and ways to control household appliances through a smartphone.

The company has also built up the portfolio through acquisition. In 2011, the company was one of six that agreed to pay a combined US$4.5 billion (S$6 billion) to acquire more than 6,000 patents from Nortel Networks Corp.

Apple and BlackBerry cite each other's technology in patent applications more than any other two North American device makers, MDB Capital Group LLC, a Santa Monica, California-based patent-investment bank, said in a 2013 study. Companies are required to identify competing technology to ensure they aren't claiming something already patented.

Facing Challenges BlackBerry's patent portfolio has been challenged by other companies that claimed to have invented some of the key technologies behind mobile e-mail. In 2006, BlackBerry, then operating as Research in Motion Inc., settled with patent holding company NTP Inc. for US$612.5 million to secure the rights to technology that enables wireless e-mail services.

Purchasing a company for its patents is a well-worn tactic in the technology industry, of course. Google Inc. bought Motorola's mobile-devices business in 2012 for US$9.8 billion to secure patents that would protect the Web company and its partners, as Google competed with Apple and BlackBerry with its Android mobile software for smartphones.